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Copyright is an automatic right that protects the way an original idea is expressed in a piece of work.

This is relevant to any business that produces original literature, drama, music, publications, films, videos or broadcasts. There are no forms to fill in or fees to pay, but copyright gives the owner or creator of any original work the legal right to control how this material may be used.

Unlike patents, registered designs or trademarks, there is no official register for copyright. Copyright comes into force immediately as soon as something is created and recorded in some way, say on paper, film, as a sound recording or on the internet.

However, it is a good idea to mark your work with the copyright symbol ©, followed by your name and date, to warn others about copying it. While this isn’t required in most countries, it is worth doing so to help you in case you need to go through any infringement procedures.

Remember that copyright does have some exceptions. Fair dealing allows some works to be used for private study or research, for example. The courts will decide if it has an economic impact on the copyright owner when deciding whether it is fair dealing.

You will also need to decide whether and how to license your work. There are various organisations that can license certain uses of your work on your behalf, for example the Newspaper Licensing Authority which works on behalf of the newspaper industry.  

Copyright does not protect ideas so if you want to protect an original idea you will need to obtain a patent, which is a fairly complicated procedure. Names, slogans, titles or phrases are also not protected by copyright so you might want to register them as a trademark ™.

Make sure that you keep records showing the date and author of any work produced in which copyright exists, and check with trade associations to ensure that fair limits have been negotiated for typical copying needs within the type of business you are running.

Lastly, it is up to you to decide how to enforce copyright as it is essentially a private right. It is best to try and resolve a matter with the party involved if you think that copyright has been infringed. If you are unable to do this, you might have to go to court. If you do decide to go ahead with legal action make sure you seek legal advice, as it is such a complicated area of law. One of the many organisations that represent copyright owners may be able to help you by giving advice, or even represent you if you are a member.

The most important thing to remember is to use the copyright symbol © followed by the owner’s name and date to ensure that you are protected overseas as it could deter infringement.

For more information about the Federation of Small Businesses go to

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