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Using and buying other people's copyright works

Copyright is a type of intellectual property. Like physical property, it cannot usually be used without the owner's permission. Of course, the copyright owner may refuse to give permission for use of their work.

It is important to remember that just buying or owning the original or a copy of a copyright work does not give you permission to use it how you wish. For example, buying a copy of a book, CD, video, computer program and so on, does not necessarily give you the right to make extra copies (even for private use), or to play or show them in public.

Other everyday uses of copyright material, such as photocopying, scanning, downloading from a CD-ROM or on-line database, all involve copying the work so permission from the copyright owner is generally needed. Also use going beyond any agreed licence that you have already got will require further permission.

Some minor uses may fall within the scope of one of the exceptions to copyright, but if you want to use a copyright work, you will usually need to approach the copyright owner and ask to purchase the actual copyright in the work or, as is more usual, negotiate a licence to cover the use you intend to make of the work.

A licence is a contract between you and the copyright owner and it is for both parties to negotiate the terms and conditions, including the payment or royalty for the use. There are no rules in copyright law governing what may be acceptable terms and conditions, but other law, particularly competition law, might be relevant to licence agreements.  Sometimes copyright owners act collectively to licence certain uses and collective licensing bodies can be approached for a licence. There are many organisations that represent copyright owners and users.

Like any form of property copyright can be bought, sold, transferred, inherited, and so on. If you wish to buy someone's copyright there would need to be a written, signed contract stating the transfer of right to you has taken place. This is known as an assignment.

You should note that with certain copyright material even if the creator sells the copyright in the work to you they will still have moral rights. This means that for instance the creator will still have the right to be identified as the author (providing he had claimed that right previously) and to object to any derogatory treatment of the work.  Moral rights in a work can not be transferred or 'assigned' but a creator is entitled to waive that is chose not to exercise those rights.  This would again have to be in writing.