Who has copyright ownership of works you commission?
How often do you outsource work or hire freelancers to do work for you? This could be anything from paying someone to design your website, create a logo for you or write some content for your website.
I suspect as a small business owner that the majority will have paid for some works to be done at some point. But when you agreed this work, did you get terms and conditions signed by both of you and if so, did you check these carefully? Did you ensure that those t’s and c’s transferred ownership of the work and the copyright to you and your business upon completion of payment?
And did these terms and conditions get signed in ink by both parties?
You may be in for a shock!
If not, you may be in for a shock.
As the law stands, and as I learnt from attending an event by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), even if you pay someone to do work for you that you will use in your business unless you have a written and signed agreement in place to transfer ownership, the person who created the piece of work for you will retain the ownership and copyright.
Therefore, if you decided to change your website designer but keep the same or similar layout, text etc, they could stop you or sue you if you go ahead!! Also have a read of the article ‘Do you really know who owns your website?‘ for more important information.
The only exception to this rule is if the work completed was carried out by an employee of your business as they would have deemed to have done the work in the course of employment.
There is a lot more information regarding copyright ownership on the Gov.Uk website.
The real danger of not having copyright ownership
What concerned me more than anything was learning that if a less than honourable person completed a piece of work for you without a signed agreement, they could if they decided to use the work that you had paid for and sell it on to other parties!
I thought in reality a problematic situation probably didn’t happen that often but since speaking to an IPO solicitor and also getting feedback from people on social media, it is a more common occurrence than I thought.
So this is something that every small business owner needs to be aware of and to be on the safe side, with any future work, always get a written agreement in place to transfer the copyright ownership to yourself and make sure both parties sign it. You have been warned!
N.B. If you are in the creative market and need a contract, a site that has been recommended to me (although I have not used myself so cannot say how good it is) is Own-It. The site has a range of fact sheets and articles along with both paid and free contracts for you to download.