INDUSTRY ADVICE: Copyright and Understanding Intellectual Property

As photographers, intellectual property rights are at the heart of everything we do, so it’s vital we fully understand and protect them. Recently we’ve been talking with the team at the Intellectual Property Office and thought it would be a good idea to invite them to share their advice and cover some of the most commonly asked questions about copyright…


Copyright and creativity

You may not associate intellectual property (IP) with creativity, but at the Intellectual Property Office, we know that IP helps creativity to flourish.

IP rights grant the owner the ability to take legal action if others attempt to make, use, import, copy or sell their creation. This helps the creator share their work, gain recognition and develop their business.

The four main types of IP are copyright, designs, patents and trade marks.

Copyright is a property right which is intended to reward the making of, and investment in, creative works. Copyright protects literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and published editions.

In the UK, copyright comes into being automatically when a qualifying work is created; there is no formal registration. Photographs will generally be protected by copyright as artistic works. The term of protection for most copyright material is the life of the creator, plus 70 years from the date of their death.


How copyright protects your work

Copyright grants the creator the right to authorise or prohibit copying, distribution to the public, rental/lending, public performance, adaptation, and communication to the public.

Creators also have what are known as ‘moral rights’. Creative works can be very special to the person who produces them as they have invested a lot in the work, emotionally and/or intellectually.

Moral rights include:

  • the right to be attributed;
  • the right to object to derogatory treatment;
  • the right to object to false attribution;
  • a right to privacy in certain commissioned photographs and films.

You can find out more about moral rights, and the other rights granted by copyright, on our website.


Who owns the image?

The person who creates an image will generally be the first owner of the copyright unless there has been some agreement to the contrary. However, there are situations in which this may not be the case. If an image was created as part of the creator’s employment, the employer will generally own the copyright. Whether you’re a freelancer or employed by a company full-time, it’s always best to check the Terms & Conditions of your contract first.

‘Licensing’ means giving another person/organisation permission to use a work – such as an image – often in return for payment and/or on certain conditions for a specific period. A photographer may allow a person/organisation to license the work on their behalf (e.g. through a collective management organisation), license the copyright directly, or transfer (‘assign’) the copyright to another person.

There are some circumstances where ownership of copyright is transferred automatically without any intervention by the first or new owner. Examples of this include inheritance and insolvency.

Find out more about the ownership of copyright works here.


Free online learning

The Intellectual Property Office’s has a range of online learning tools to help you better understand your IP rights.

IP Equip tool is a free online CPD-accredited training tool. It takes your through 4 short modules and uses case studies to show why intellectual property is important. It should take around 20 minutes to complete, but if you’re in a hurry, you can go straight to the module on copyright.

More of a visual learner? Our IP Basics videos provide short, simple explanations of the various IP rights. They also cover licensing and franchising, how to avoid infringing IP and what to do if your business is a victim of IP crime. You can watch our IP Basics video on copyright here.

For a real-life example of how a photographer has benefitted from understanding copyright, read our case study with Satureyes Media. Rick Bronks, who heads up the company, discusses how he has developed his strategy and enforces his rights.

For detailed guidance on digital images, photographs and the internet, read our copyright notice.

You can sign up to our e-alerts to receive IP advice, events and updates direct to your inbox.


Follow the Intellectual Property Office on social media to get involved in the #IP4biz conversation:

Twitter: @The_IPO

LinkedIn: IPO UK

Instagram: @ipforbusiness

IPO Blog:



Not a Shutter Hub member yet? Join here for opportunities to promote your work online and in exhibitions, access selected opportunities, events, seminars and workshops, meet up and share photographic experiences, and become part of our growing community…