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Copyright – A Very, Very Brief Guide

Copyright gives the creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works the right to control the ways in which their material may be used. The work does not have to have artistic or literary merit. Copyright covers any work which is the result of the author’s skill or which has involved an investment of time, effort and/or money. This includes photographs, letters, manuscripts, commercial documents, maps, leaflets, newsletters, articles etc.


Copyright is held by the creators, not the physical owner, of a work. Normally the individuals or collective who authored the work will exclusively own the rights unless they have specifically assigned them elsewhere.  However, if a work is produced as part of employment then normally the work belongs to the employer.


One item may have many copyright holders. For example, each of the passages of text, photographs, drawings, layout and artwork of a leaflet may have had a different creator. This is one reason why organisations may be reluctant to give you permission to publish.


If you take a photograph of a photograph, then both you and the original photographer (as well as any creator of the item photographed) will have copyright over your respective contributions.


You should obtain permission in writing for everything you intend to do with the work (email is good for this). Remember to acknowledge any copyright holder when you publish.


You may be unable to identify the copyright holder. For example, you may not know who took a photograph. You should make every effort to identify the copyright holder and document this. You may then decide to publish with a note that best endeavours were made to discover the rights holder, that anyone with information regarding the item should contact you, and anyone believing they are the rights holder can request the item be removed.


Copyright often ends 70 years after the death of the author, but there are exceptions.


For more information, including two flowcharts (for non-Crown and Crown works) showing the duration of copyright, see:

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