Skip navigation

0113 237 9900

Book Free Call


Copyright and Business Websites: What You Need to Know

Back to IP FAQs Overview
IP Commercialisation

Business websites host a range of copyright material

But how do you protect it, and what are the best practices?

Watercolour illustrations of web page designs

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry

If you're a business owner with a website, it's essential to understand copyright law. Copyright protects original works of authorship, including text, images, videos, and more – all of which can be found on websites and make them unique, convincing, and attractive to visitors.

In the digital age, it's easier than ever to copy and share content, but that doesn't mean it's legal to do so! Copyright owners need to be aware of their rights, and moreover understand the rights of other copyright holders – in order to know what material they can and cannot use.

In this blog post, we'll cover the basics of copyright, how it applies to business websites, and what steps you can take to protect your own content.



Copyright Basics


Copyright is a legal concept that gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to control how that work is used and distributed.

These exclusive rights include the right to reproduce the work, create derivative works, distribute copies, and perform or display the work publicly.

Copyright protection applies to any original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium, including literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works.

This means that copyright does not protect an idea! However, it does protect the idea in its recorded form.

Crucially, copyright comes into existence when the original authored work at the point that it is created, and lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years.

A website may be seen as comprised of a number of different copyright works, including photos, web copy and videos (amongst other forms of material).

Understanding who owns what, how this is signaled to the wider public and how it is enforced when push comes to shove, is vital for a business that relies on its website (which is most of us these days!)



Copyright and Business Websites


As a business owner with a website, you must understand what content on your website is subject to copyright.

This includes all original text, images, videos, and other multimedia content.

You cannot copy or use copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holder.

If you use copyrighted content without permission, you could face legal consequences, including monetary damages and injunctions to stop using the content.

To obtain permission to use copyrighted content on your website, you must contact the copyright holder and ask for permission. This can be done by email, phone, or in writing. Be sure to include details about how you plan to use the content and how long you plan to use it.

If the copyright holder grants permission, make sure to get it in writing and keep a copy for your records. They may also ask you for a payment to be made to this effect.

As such, it is often beneficial for businesses to ensure that their websites are comprised of copyright material that they own, is free to use, or which they have an ongoing license to use – to not risk issues with copyright infringement or ownership disputes.



Protecting Your Own Website Content


It's not just important to respect the copyright of others; you also need to protect your own website content.

One way to do this is to clearly designate your website content as copyright protected, by stating as much at the bottom of the page.

By clearly notifying visitors that you consider all content on the website to be subject to copyright, you deter them from copying you, and strengthen your position should a copyright infringement occur.

Another useful thing to do is to keep a document relating to the creation of key copyright material – in essence, keeping records of how they were made and who made them. This will help should a copyright infringement claim occur, as you will already have an abundance of evidence as it relates to the creation of the material in question.

Furthermore, it can be important to make sure that any content created for the website (including, to a certain degree the website code and structure itself) should have been created by a third-party is assigned to the company.

This is because, notably, the author of a copyright work owns the copyright related to it – unless they are directly employed by the business in question, at which point this is transferred to the company they work for, by default.

In the past we have come across disputes where website owners have found themselves at odds with the web developers who built the website – but who technically still own the copyright as it had not been assigned to the company. In such instances, there are options, but it would have been far easier had an assignment of copyright taken place in the first instance.



Fair Use


Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows the use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder for certain purposes, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Notably, many who cite fair use when using copyright material may be swayed by their own biases – and it is important that a dispassionate, detached and informed view is taken. Broadly speaking a legal understanding or standpoint is required to do so without fear of reprisal.

Broadly speaking, it is best to err on the side of caution and seek to use material which is freely available or legally owned and licensed by the company in such instances.

To determine whether the use of copyrighted material is fair use, the Courts consider four factors: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work.

While fair use can be a defense against copyright infringement, it's important to understand that it's a complex legal doctrine, and the outcome of any particular case depends on the specific facts and circumstances involved.





In conclusion, understanding copyright law is essential for any business owner with a website.

 By respecting the copyright of others and protecting your own website content, you can avoid legal issues and protect your business's reputation.

If you have any questions or concerns about copyright law and your website, it's always best to consult with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law.​


Get in touch





Look at our other guides that relate to this topic here.

How to sue for copyright infringement in the United Kingdom

How to appeal a copyright infringement claim

What is copyright?



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances.

Want to get started?

Click below to be get started working with us.

Leeds 0113 237 9900

London 0208 088 2367

Get in touch


This website uses cookies. You can read more information about why we do this, and what they are used for on our Privacy and Cookies policy page.

Accept Decline