How should I write the copyright notice on my materials and who should own the copyright? Me in my individual capacity, in my trading name or my limited company?

The legal position is that the owner of copyright is the creator of the original work. The exception to that is where a person has created an original work in the course of their employment, in which case the employer owns the copyright, unless expressly stated otherwise, for example in an employment agreement.

So if you are trading through a limited company and you are the sole director and shareholder and take a salary (i.e. you are an employee), then the legal position is that any copyright in an original work that is created for your business would be owned by the limited company and not you as an individual.

If you are a sole trader, then you as an individual would own the copyright in any works created.

As to how you would write the copyright notice, it should be the copyright symbol © followed by the name of the copyright owner e.g. ABC Limited and then the year in which the work was created eg 2023. If it is a work that is constantly being updated, such as your website, the typical convention is to include a range of dates e.g 2010 – 2023. You should also add to the end of this statement “All rights reserved” as this brings a greater chance of succeeding in a claim for infringement of copyright in certain jurisdictions.

That is the most simple form of copyright notice and would be appropriate for the bottom of each page of a document or PDF slides etc. However you may want to consider a longer copyright notice on the front of more valuable IP such as trainings or handouts the programs etc.

In my Small Business Legal Academy we have four different lengths of copyright notice for different scenarios.

Remember that the absence of a copyright notice does not mean that you do not own the copyright, but it may make it more difficult to bring a claim for infringement in certain jurisdictions. 

As to who should actually own the copyright, there may be a reason that you as an individual want to own the copyright rather than your limited company. 

That might be for tax reasons or if you want to ring fence the copyright so that it is not an asset owned by the limited company, e.g. if you plan to sell the company and want to be able to continue to use your copyrighted materials after the sale. Larger organisations will have group companies that purely hold IP and operating companies will pay them a licence fee to use it; this is mainly tax driven by international tax differences. However, saying that, no matter how small your company is, it's always worth talking to your accountant/ tax advisor about the tax treatment of IP owned by your company as compared to it being owned by you as an individual.

If you do want to assign the copyright in your creations to another legal entity – whether that is from you as an individual to a limited company on its formation (or otherwise) or whether it is from your limited company back to you as an individual, or indeed from one limited company to another, you always need to have a written assignment, or the assignment will not be effective.

We have a template for an IP assignment in my Small Business Legal Academy. 

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© Suzanne Dibble 2013-2023

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. We disclaim all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.