Some simple guidelines on copyright


Our proofreading course students often ask us questions about copyright – it’s a big subject.

Here’s a selection of some recent ones. You may find the answers helpful in developing your editorial skills.

Q. If you’re editing a website, is it the editor’s job to just alert the client to copyright issues? Or should the editor also supply contact details of where to apply for permission? Or would the editor ever apply for permission?

A. The copy editor’s ‘default’ position is to query copyright, if (s)he has a cause for concern. You should assume the client has done all the necessary checks themselves. But you would raise a query if it appeared they hadn’t, or that they’d missed something.

If a client asks the editor to supply the contact details and make the copyright application, the editor would charge more.

Q. If a freelance editor edits some webpages, the copyright belongs to the author. But if the pages are rewritten considerably, does the copyright still belong to the author? At what point – if ever – would copyright belong to the editor?

A. The copyright always remains with the author, no matter how much editing they’ve done. Legally, the editor could argue they had created an original copyright work – but this would destroy their relationship with the client, and possibly their reputation.

Q. The Copyright Licensing Agency website mentions buying a licence to use photos. Is this instead of asking for written permission? Or does the agency act as the middleman in requesting permission? Or does a licence allow something different, like multiple usage?

A. A licence is just another way of saying ‘getting written permission’. So if you want to use a picture of our website, I’ll give you consent for £50 – and that consent is known as a licence.

Licences can cover all kinds of things, and contain any terms and conditions. For instance, I could sell you a licence to use any photos from our website, for ever. It covers any kind of agreement between the copyright owner and the purchaser.

Q. If you pay someone to design your website, is copyright included in the design price or do you buy it separately?

A. The design is covered by copyright – this is separate from the content. So the copyright ownership is agreed between the client and the designer. Some designers insist on keeping the copyright themselves, so they can reuse it. Others are happy to sell it to the client.

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