Guide

Managing your copyright

How to license or buy other people's copyright

You can usually get permission to use someone else's copyright by buying the rights from them or getting their permission to use it. Using someone’s copyright without their permission results in intellectual property infringement and could lead to a fine, prison or both.

Permitted use of copyright

In certain cases, you may be able to use copyright work without the owner's explicit permission. This is only the case if the purpose of the use falls under a specific category, eg for educational purposes. See more on copyright exceptions.

For the majority of uses, however, you will only be able to use copyright work lawfully with the permission of the owner.

Licensing other people's copyright

To permit you to use their copyright, the owner may ask you to buy it or, more usually, license it for the use you propose.

A licence is a type of a contractual agreement between you and the copyright owner. There are a number of different types of copyright licences. You will have to seek out the owner to find out:

  • if they are willing to license their work to you
  • what they will allow you to do with their work
  • if any limitations will apply

Finding a copyright owner isn't always straightforward, especially where there may be joint copyright owners who may need to give their permission. For example, in a CD there may be the rights of the performers, record producer, lyricists, composer and music publishers.

See more about finding a copyright owner.

Sometimes owners of particular types of copyright license their works through collecting societies and licensing bodies.

Buying other people's copyright

As with any other property, you can buy, sell, transfer, inherit or give away copyright. This is known as an 'assignment of copyright' and usually involves signing a contract between the former and new owner. Typical assignments are agreed between creative people and businesses which commission work. See how to sell or transfer your copyright.

In addition to the rights to control the copying and distribution of their works, you will also have to keep in mind the creators' moral rights when using their material. Find out more about your economic rights from owning copyright.