Digital intellectual property and your business

Licensing, contracts, jurisdiction and enforcement

Guide

Copyright owners can decide whether or not to let other people use their work and they have the absolute right to refuse to do so. Sometimes the owner of a digital asset - eg a video, film or photograph - may want to retain it for their exclusive use. Other owners will grant licences, which can be for one-time use of an asset, for continuing use - perhaps for a limited time - or for exclusive use. Payment for these licences is usually negotiated, although some copyright owners have a standard scale of fees.

Digital assets can also be sold, and some businesses exist simply to create and sell digital assets such as software and computer games. Some photographers take pictures on a speculative basis, for example, to sell to media organisations.

If you buy, licence or sell rights to a digital asset, you should have a contract that specifies the terms under which the rights are assigned. These may limit the ways in which the asset may be used and show additional costs for more extensive use.

Copyright ownership is an international right which is protected worldwide in all countries subscribing to the Berne Convention. The ways in which owners can take action vary from country to country. However, breaches of copyright usually allow for damages in compensation. In some jurisdictions fines or other penalties can also be imposed for infringement of copyright.