10 things you might not know about … COPYRIGHT

Reviewed November 2019

1. Copyright in Photographs before and after 1989

Copyright in photographs is normally owned by the photographer nowadays, but if the photo was taken prior to 1989, when the law was changed, it is owned by whoever commissioned the picture. This is worth bearing in mind if you are planning to use archive pictures that were taken prior to 1989.

2. Alternatives to Claiming Damages

As well as damages, a claimant has a number of other remedies they can ask for – these include surrender up of the offending material; destruction of the material and an account of profits made from breaching material.

3. Other IP Laws for Protecting Property

Owners of intellectual property can use a number of other IP laws to protect their property, including passing off, trademark and patent protection laws.

4. Copyright Free Material

While the UK government copyrights its material for 125 years under Crown Copyright, much material in the US Federal Government archive is copyright free (always check T&Cs before use)

5. Complexity of Copyrights for Films

Copyrights for films can involve complex rights, with ownership of copyright asserted by the director, screenwriter and composer.

6. The Cost of Failure to Establish Copyright

Failure to establish ownership of copyright resulted in the BBC shelving a producton of “Room At The Top” which was to have been the flagship of a series of dramas by 20th century British writers.

7. Who Owns Letters?

Letters are the physical property of the person they are sent to, but copyright is retained by the author. In the case of a letter in to a newspaper, there is an implied licence for the newspaper to publish it once.

8. Copyright for Freelances’ Work

Freelances own the copyright of their work and if a commissioner wants that copyright it must be expressly assigned or licensed to them by the freelance. This is important for freelances to remember when any commissioner attempts to ‘grab’ rights to material.

9. Copyright for Photography on Picture Sharing Sites

If you are using picture sharing sites for photography, the T&Cs of most will say that you retain copyright of the material but give them limited licences to allow functionality of their sites – embedding, retweeting etc. Always check T&Cs carefully though, some sites have grabbed copyright, so they own the work.

10. Registering your Work will Pay Dividends

Authors whose works may be frequently photocopied or lent in libraries should register with ALCS and PLR which collect fees on their behalf and distribute those payments to copyright holders on a regular basis.


Written by David Banks, Media Law Consultant and Trainer. David runs the Law, Ethics and Copyright workshops for NUJ Training Wales.

Written By...

David Banks

David Banks is a journalist with 24 years’ experience and delivers NUJ Training Wales’ course on Media Law and Ethics. He is a media consultant delivering training to a range of national and regional media, NGOs, government, charities, PR companies, universities and the police. He is a trainer who has created and managed successful courses in journalism, media law and production journalism. He was co-author of 18th, 19th and 20th editions of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. He writes regularly on law and the media for The Guardian, The Mirror and The Independent. He is a frequent contributor BBC TV and radio news programmes.


NUJ Training Cymru Wales