Frequently Asked Questions about copyright (based on examples from the card industry)

What is copyright?

Copyright is an unregistered right (unlike patents, registered designs or trade marks). There is no official action to take, no application to make, no forms to fill in or fees to pay. Copyright comes into effect as soon as something that can be protected is created and “fixed” in some way, e.g. on paper, on film, via sound recording, as an electronic record on the internet, etc.

It is a good idea for you to mark your copyright work with the copyright symbol © followed by your name and the date, to warn others against copying it, but it is not legally necessary.

The types of works that ‘copyright’ protects are:

  • original literary works, e.g. novels, instruction manuals, computer programs, lyrics for songs, articles in newspapers and some types of databases
  • original dramatic works, including works of dance or mime;
  • original musical works;
  • original artistic works, e.g. paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, works of architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps, logos;
  • published editions of works, i.e. the typographical arrangement of a publication;
  • sound recordings, which may be recordings on any medium, e.g. tape or compact disc, and may be recordings of other copyright works, e.g. musical or literary;
  • films, including videos; and
  • broadcasts.

I am a card designer/ illustrator, why do I need to know about copyright?

Copyright affects everything that you do.

If you design a card, or create a drawing, then you own the copyright in that artwork. This is your right as the creator of that design unless you assign the copyright in that work to the person who commissioned (or purchased) the card design. This applies even if you have been paid for the card design (or drawing) and you can charge the company that commissioned the image a fee (in the form of a licence agreement) to use this design – now and in the future.

If you use or re interpret someone else’s painting, drawing or imagery, you need to know if that picture is subject to copyright. You need to ask yourself ‘when did the artist of this picture die?’ If it was over 70 years ago, then you could incorporate some or all of the picture into a new work. But please note, a photograph in a book is someone else’s copyright – it usually belongs to the publisher or the photographer.

At BRAND PROTECT, we can help you maximise your earnings from licensing your designs and illustrations and help you to continue to benefit from them for the whole of your lifetime (and, perhaps, those of your children).

I manufacture and sell cards, how does copyright law affect my business?

The image on every card that you sell is protected by copyright. Beware of selling images that you do not own, or do not have the right to sell. If you, for example, sell a card that includes a photograph that you commissioned, the photographer probably owns that image – not you. Ensure that you own, or have purchased the rights, to reproduce that image. The same applies to designs or paintings; the copyright stays with the designer or painter, unless you mutually agree that the rights are assigned to you in writing, the card manufacturer.

At BRAND PROTECT, we specialise in this aspect of the law and can advise you on the most cost effective approach to dealing with copyright issues.