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Intellectual property advice

As a creative, you should consider your work as property. There are various intellectual property systems that you can use to safeguard your work. Here you will find online advice about intellectual property, Design Right, Creative Commons, Trade marks and patents.


Copyright protects artistic, musical, literary and performance works and works of artistic craftsmanship. This includes novels, poems, films, songs, sculptures, buildings, drawings, film scripts and operas.

The basics

  • Copyright is automatic on any of your creations as long as you haven’t copied somebody else’s work or taken a substantial part of it.
  • Copyright gives you control over who copies, distributes, publishes or performs your work. You can use the copyright sign, ©, followed by your name and date of creation or first publication. This signals to others that you own the copyright in the work.
  • Don’t assume that a work published without a copyright notice doesn’t have a copyright owner. It is not necessary to publish a work with a copyright notice for copyright to exist.
  • The creator of a copyright work also has moral rights such as the right to be credited as the author of the work. They also have the right to object to derogatory treatment and the right to object to false attribution.

For further information on copyright, read the Copyright factsheet (PDF 181KB).

Design Right

Design right protects the appearance of a product resulting from its shape, colour or material but NOT its function. This applies to designers.

Design Right doesn't protect features of a product that are functional, that must fit (screw tops) or match aesthetically (car doors matching the overall design of the car) or methods or principles of construction (the fact that a chair needs three points of contact to the floor to stand).

We have two kinds of design right in the UK, registered and unregistered design. Unregistered design rights exist automatically.

You can register design rights at the IPO in the UK (for UK design right) or at OHIM in Alicante/Spain (for community design right).

There are also two kinds of EU wide design rights: Registered community design; and unregistered community design. These rights exist in parallel to national design rights.

For further information download the Design IP factsheet.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is an easy-to-use licensing system. It allows users to share copyright protected work online without asking the owner of copyright work for permission first.

It is not an alternative to copyright but is firmly rooted in copyright law.

There are many advantages to use Creative Commons. But there are also some issues you should consider before publishing your images online under a Creative Commons licence:

  • The term ‘non-commercial’ has no clear definition and as a result your image may be used in a context that you consider commercial.
  • The default licence is very wide. You would need to limit the licence if you want to exclude commercial use or prevent changes to your work .
  • Once you provide a CC licence you cannot revoke the licence, as the system only works when the licence cannot be terminated.
  • People may download your images and not bother to publish it with the CC licence so your image may become an ‘orphan work’.
  • As anybody can freely share your image someone could use it in a context you don’t agree with, such as a political party or campaign you may not support. If they credit you and fulfil the terms of the CC licence you cannot prevent them from using your image.
  • You should always clear third party rights before granting any rights in your images. Consider that there is copyright in a painting you have taken a photograph of. You have to ask the artist before publishing a photograph of the artwork.

Further information

How to use licences: visit the Creative Commons website, packed with useful information.

Creative Commons short summary: read the Creative commons factsheet (PDF 351KB).

Trade marks

A 'trade mark' is any sign capable of distinguishing your goods or services from other goods and services. It may consist of words, logos, the shape of the goods or their packaging, or a combination of all of these. A valid trade mark enables you to prevent others from taking unfair advantage of the goodwill in your brand.

In the UK, we have unregistered and registered trade marks. Registered trademarks provide much stronger protection than unregistered trademarks because you can prevent anybody who uses an identical or similar sign in the same area of trade from using your trade mark.

To find out more about what signs can be trade marks, read Trademark factsheet (PDF 269KB). Go to the IPO website if you want to register a trade mark in the UK. Watch this step-by-step guide on how to choose your company name and avoid infringing other people’s trade marks.


If your idea or innovation has an industrial application then you may wish to consider applying for a patent.

A patent gives protection to an invention that is new, involves an inventive step, is capable of industrial application and is not specifically excluded from patentability (e.g. as a pure discovery or scientific theory). A patent gives the holder a monopoly for up to 20 years (subject to payment of the required fees).

If you think you have a good idea and it may be patentable, speak to a business adviser first. Use a confidentiality agreement. 
You should also speak to an IP expert to find out about other strategies of protecting your idea without the expense of filing a patent.

For further information on patents read the Patent factsheet (PDF 287KB).

Are you concerned someone has infringed your rights?

  • Gather evidence of the infringement using Google image search, or by taking photographs of infringing products that appear in shops. You would need to show the extent and time of the infringing act.
  • If you are unsure whether or not infringement has taken place, seek qualified legal advice.
  • If you have evidence of infringement, write a cease and desist letter to the other party using a friendly and professional tone. In it detail your ownership of the IP rights and the alleged infringements.
  • If the infringement continues, you might have to start legal proceedings, depending of course on the individual circumstances.

Please note:

Please do not use legal templates without first obtaining professional legal advice. As copyright and unregistered design rights arise automatically (i.e. there are no registration requirements) there is no central register stating when or if a work obtained protection. It will be up to you to keep good records which help prove that (i) protection exists; and (ii) you own the copyright/design right.

Practical steps you can do:

  • Keep a document trail that records the creation process.
  • Keep sketchbooks which date and demonstrate the evolution of the design.
  • Include notes or records of meetings and attendance notes of significant telephone conversations which relate to the design process (if any).
  • Include copies of emails, letters, faxes and handwritten notes which suggest amendments and/or improvements.

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