Copyright for your business

Copyright infringement


You run the risk of heavy penalties if you infringe copyright. In other words, if you use all or a 'substantial part' of a copyright-protected work without the copyright owner's permission.

What is a 'substantial part'?

A substantial part is not defined in copyright law but has been interpreted by the courts to mean a qualitatively significant part of a work even where this is not a large part of the work. Even a small portion of the whole work may still be considered a substantial part.

What is infringement?

Infringement happens when you, without the permission of the owner:

  • copy a work
  • sell, rent or lend copies of a work to the public
  • perform, show or play a work in public
  • broadcast a work
  • make an adaptation of a work

If you infringe copyright, you could be taken to court and run the risk of having to pay damages and compensation to the copyright owner. You could also face:

  • an injunction preventing you from using the copyright material
  • being ordered to surrender the copyright material to the copyright owner

Copyright piracy - a deliberate infringement of copyright when undertaken as part of a trade or business - is a criminal offence punishable by monetary fines and even imprisonment.

Forms of copyright infringement

There are several ways copyright can be infringed. For example, software misuse is a common form of copyright infringement in businesses. This involves making illegal copies of software or breaching the terms of the software licence

Another common area of potential copyright infringement for businesses is not having the correct licence when playing music in public. In this situation, whether you play recorded or broadcast music, you will need two licences:

The law does not strictly define 'in public' although anything wider than a purely domestic situation such as for your staff, visitors or customers may amount to a 'public performance'.

Get permission from the copyright owner

You must seek the permission of the copyright owner if you want to make, distribute, rent or loan out copies of their work - including work on the internet - or to adapt, perform, show or broadcast it. However, the copyright owner is under no obligation to give such permission.

If you wish to use copyright material, contact the publisher or the author. They will want to know how you intend to use the material, where it is to be published and in what formats, the extent of circulation, eg how many copies, the intended audience, etc.

If they give you permission to use the material, they are likely to ask for the source to be mentioned, and will sometimes specify that this reference must appear in a certain place - eg beneath the photograph, and that you must use the wording they provide.

Sometimes there are organisations that work on behalf of copyright owners and grant licences for use of copyright works. Such an organisation may be able to offer you a blanket licence for use of all copyright work in one particular field.

When you may not need permission

There are occasions when you may not need permission to use someone else's work. To find out when this applies, see copyright exceptions.