Copyright for your business

Copyright infringement


You run the risk of heavy penalties if you infringe copyright - in other words, use all - or a 'substantial part' - of a copyright protected work without the copyright owner's permission. This means you must not, without permission,:

  • copy a work
  • sell, rent or lend copies of a work to the public
  • perform, show or play a work in public
  • broadcast a work
  • make an adaptation of a work

If you infringe copyright, you could be taken to court and run the risk of having to pay damages and compensation to the copyright owner. You could also face:

  • having an injunction taken out against you - to stop you using the copyright material
  • being ordered to surrender the copyright material to the copyright owner

What is a 'substantial part'?

A substantial part is not defined in copyright law but has been interpreted by the courts to mean a qualitatively significant part of a work even where this is not a large part of the work. Therefore, it is quite likely that even a small portion of the whole work will still be a substantial part.

Forms of copyright infringement

Software misuse is a common form of copyright infringement in businesses - such as making illegal copies of software or breaching the terms of the software licence. For more information on software licensing, see computer software for business.

Under copyright law, anyone wishing to play music in public, whether recorded or broadcast, is required to buy two licences:

The law does not strictly define 'in public' although anything wider than a purely domestic situation such as for your staff, visitors or customers may amount to a 'public performance'.

Copyright piracy - deliberate infringement of copyright when undertaken as part of a trade or business - is a criminal offence. This carries an unlimited fine and up to ten years' imprisonment.

Get permission from the copyright owner

You must seek the permission of the copyright owner if you want to make, distribute, rent or loan out copies of their work - including work on the internet - or to adapt, perform, show or broadcast it. However, the copyright owner is under no obligation to give such permission.

If you wish to use copyright material, contact the publisher or the author. They will want to know how you intend to use the material, where it is to be published and in what formats, the extent of circulation, eg how many copies, the intended audience, etc.

If they give you permission to use the material, they are likely to ask for the source to be mentioned, and will sometimes specify that this reference must appear in a certain place - eg beneath the photograph, and that you must use the wording they provide.

Sometimes there are organisations that work on behalf of copyright owners and grant licences for use of copyright works. Such an organisation may be able to offer you a blanket licence for use of all copyright work in one particular field.

When you may not need permission

There are occasions when you may not need permission. To find out when this applies, see copyright exceptions.