Copyright and publishing

You must establish the copyright ownership for each publication from a very early stage. You also need to provide this information where the reader can easily find it.

Copyright applies to works of an original literary, artistic or dramatic nature. The first owner of copyright will usually be the author of the work or the author’s employer. In the case of works created by civil servants and government ministers in the course of their duties, the first owner of copyright in the work will be the Crown (see Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988).

Commissioning arrangements

If a publication’s authors are not civil servants, you must check whether copyright has been acquired for the Crown from the legal owner by means of a contract.

Government organisations often commission independent experts or authors to produce reports or research. As ownership of the copyright would rest with the person who wrote the report, or their employer, organisations must consider whether to claim the copyright on behalf of the Crown by means of one or more suitable clauses within the commissioning contract.

If copyright is not assigned to the Crown, this could result in other organisations, including the commissioning organisation itself, not being able to use and re-use the material without seeking the permission of the original author – both difficult and time-consuming.

If an organisation does decide to allow the copyright in the commissioned work to rest with the author, it should at least acquire a licence to publish and use the material or ensure that the material is published through an open licence.

Copyright statements in published material

Government organisations must include a statement to indicate copyright ownership of documents they produce. These statements must also include details of the year in which the material was first published. This applies to all documents, regardless of how they are published.

Copyright statements can also indicate the terms under which the content of a publication can be re-used by others. Most Crown and Crown-owned copyright material can be re-used freely under the Open Government Licence (OGL). The OGL does not permit the re-use of any third party material, so it is important for government organisations to acknowledge the copyright owner of any non-Crown material, for example photos or data. Ideally, third party copyright material should be also be published through an open licence.

The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 will apply to most information published by government organisations. These regulations create a mandatory right for individuals and businesses to re-use material that government has produced and owns the copyright for.

The National Archives has produced a number of copyright and re-use statements for use by government organisations in their publications. These statements are mandatory for use in Command, House of Commons and un-numbered Act Papers. There are also best practice statements for non-Crown organisations which own their own copyright.

Copyright in typographical arrangement

Please note that the layout of a document (the typographical arrangement) also qualifies for copyright protection.

The first owner of copyright in the typographical arrangement is the publisher. So for a non-Crown publisher, typically a contractor, the contracting government organisation should ensure that this copyright is assigned to the Crown, otherwise users wishing to photocopy a document would need to obtain a separate permission for use of the layout.