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Who’s Who in the Copyright Zoo?

An issue that often rears its often ugly head is that of who owns copyright in original works. Disputes around ownership of copyright typically arise as a consequence of someone using someone else’s work, without their permission.

Generally, the first owner of copyright in an original work is the author of that work. For example, a logo designer will own copyright in a logo that he or she creates and a copywriter will own the words that they pen.

But there is a common exception when it comes to who owns copyright and that’s where an employee creates an original work in the course of their employment. Where this occurs, the employer will own copyright in that work. The Australian Copyright Act says so.

To the surprise of many, payment to a person for creating work for you has no impact upon copyright ownership.

Ownership of copyright may be assigned (transferred) from one party to another but it must be in writing (again, the Copyright Act says so). Therefore, if you engage a third party to create an original work for you (think logos, websites, articles, photographs, videos, etc), then you should have them sign a properly prepared assignment document. This is a conversation that is best had prior to engaging a third party creator.

Once you are confident that you own copyright in a work, you should accompany the work with a copyright statement. It is not necessary in Australia for you to display a copyright statement and it will not give you stronger rights. However, it may act as a deterrent to potential infringers of your copyright.

A correctly worded copyright statement will be Copyright [year of first publication] [copyright owner details]. For example: Copyright 2016 Pod Legal Pty Ltd.

Owning copyright is crucial if you are ever required to enforce copyright against others for unauthorised use of your work. It’s difficult to control what you don’t own and trying to establish ownership retrospectively can present its own challenges.

Finally, copyright is personal property that may be commercialised. For example, you may issue a person with a right to use certain copyright work (licensing model) or assign it to another party for a fee (sale of copyright). Either way, it is beyond dispute that copyright can be a valuable and important commercial asset.

Contact us if you are not sure if you own copyright or if you need a hand to have copyright transferred to you.