Protecting digital intellectual property
Understand the importance of digital assets - what they are, how to protect them and how to maximise their value to your business
Digital intellectual property is intellectual property (IP) in digital format. Most businesses create, handle and store some sort of digital IP, perhaps without realising it.
Images, videos, audios, digital documents, software and databases can all be considered digital IP. These assets are valuable. They can help you build a successful brand and run effective marketing campaigns. They can also have a key role in supporting sales, staff training and workflows. Because of their inherent value, digital assets should be protected.
This guide explains what digital assets are and tells you how to protect them. It helps you understand the IP challenges in the digital world, specifically around protecting your IP in digital content, your websites and social media. It also looks at how digital asset management tools can help you manage and protect your digital IP.
Digital assets explained
Digital assets refers to owned material that can be stored digitally
'Digital assets' is a blanket term to cover everything that you own or have rights over that can be stored in a digital format. The range of material covered by the term is extensive and growing, and includes:
- original music
- film and video
- technical data
- copyright publications
Digital assets can be created in a number of ways, including computers, digital cameras and audio systems, mobile phones and scanners.
Digital assets can be stored on computers or network servers, on remote hard drives, CDs, DVDs, tapes, portable storage media such as flash drives, and internet servers. Several of these storage media are inherently insecure, and since digital assets can be of considerable value to a business, it's important to take steps to protect them from unauthorised use.
This will allow the assets to be exploited, sold or licensed to create income streams.
Find out how to protect your intellectual property.
How to protect your digital intellectual property
Copyright protection is automatic but still needs to be guarded against unauthorised use or copying
Most digital assets are protected by the law on copyright, which covers anything that is written down or recorded.
Copyright protection for digital assets
Copyright is an automatic right - there is no need to register ownership. The law automatically gives copyright protection to the creator or first owner of a piece of work.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to prove this. If you produce something original, you can show that you are the copyright owner by using the copyright symbol ©, or by including a declaration to that effect. In some cases, it may be appropriate to make a comprehensive statement such as 'All rights are reserved. No part of this work may be reprinted, reproduced or used without the permission in writing of the publisher.'
See more on copyright for your business.
If you own a website, you can add to it an internet copyright notice which sets out the copyright position of your website content. You can find a sample internet copyright notice and guidelines in our guide sample IT policies, disclaimers and notices.
Other types of protection for digital assets
Some digital assets can be digitally protected by encoding, encryption or watermarking. These methods are designed to prevent unauthorised use of assets such as photographs, films, music or software that is licensed to a third party.
Some of these protections are designed for 'copy once, use many' approach - so that an asset may, for example, be downloaded once, but subsequently stored and used freely. This is usually the case with software or entertainment products. In other cases, assets can be downloaded on a time-limited basis - for example, for trial use of a digital product.
Breach of rights
If a digital asset is used by someone without permission, this could constitute a breach of copyright.
In, certain circumstances the copying of digital products may be a criminal offence. Criminal offences may occur where a person is making or selling technology designed to break encryption which has been placed on digital products.
If you feel your digital asset is being infringed, you have the legal right to stop them and to receive damages in compensation. See our guide on protecting intellectual property.
Using other people's digital assets
The use of another individual's digital intellectual property is only allowed with the permission of the owner
It is very important that you respect the intellectual property (IP) rights of other businesses or individuals.
Licensing other people's digital assets
Sometimes you may want to use other people's digital assets for your own purposes. For example if you are using spreadsheet software to develop an accounting application, you should approach the owner of the rights to the software to apply for a licence to use it. You would own the copyright of the accounting application, but the original software owner would retain the IP rights in the program - so any other users of your application must buy original copies of the software.
You may want to use other digital assets such as photographs, music or videos in your own publications, including websites. The copyright owner must give their permission for this use, and they have the right to refuse. For some digital assets, there are licensing societies which grant rights to users.
It is important to bear in mind that the image rights of people or inanimate objects such as buildings shown in a photograph or video are usually separate from the copyright. You must therefore ensure that you have the permission of both the image rights owner and the copyright owner.
Infringing the rights in digital assets
If you make unauthorised use of someone else's digital assets or make or sell technology designed to break encryption which has been placed on digital products, you may be fined or have to pay damages to the rights owner. Use of someone else's IP can also be a criminal offence and lead to prosecution.
Find out how to prevent intellectual property infringement.
Intellectual property in specific sectors
In some business sectors, such as entertainment and software, IP is particularly vulnerable to infringement
Some types of digital assets are particularly prone to copyright infringement. Illegal copies are made and circulated and the copyright owner loses revenue. This is especially so with mass-market assets such as software, music and videos.
Systems of digital intellectual property (IP) protection such as encoding, encryption and watermarking have made this kind of infringement more difficult. Software owners, for example, often require legitimate purchasers to register their use with a unique key which is sent to a secure website. Music and film publishers use various forms of content scrambling in an effort to frustrate unauthorised copying. Even so, it is impossible to eliminate copyright infringement entirely.
Many producers of vulnerable digital assets have banded together in industry specific groups. These act to protect the business interests of copyright owners, tracing cases of infringement, misuse and piracy and pursuing claims for damages and other actions against offenders.
Business Software Alliance (BSA)
BSA is a trade association for the software industry and its hardware partners. Among its main objectives is to protect the IP rights of software producers, enforce software copyright legislation and encourage compliance among software users.
UK Interactive Entertainment Association (UKIE)
UKIE (formally known as Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association) is the trade association of the UK creative games and interactive entertainment sector. It works to protect the interests of its members and prevent copyright theft and piracy.
Alliance for Intellectual Property
The Alliance is a UK-based coalition of associations and enforcement organisations working to protect IP rights in a range of business sectors. Members include representatives of the audiovisual, music, video game and software industries as well as publishers, authors, retailers and designers.
Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)
FACT aims to protect the UK film and broadcasting industries against counterfeiting, copyright and trade mark infringements.
UK Music represents the collective interests of the UK's commercial music industry.