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If you are a software developer, the code your products run on represents the very foundation of your business. Naturally, therefore, you will be keen to ensure your intellectual property is protected and your customers’ rights to the code are clearly understood. Protection of code is normally covered under copyright law, but it can also receive protection under design rights and patent law. 

In this short article, our software lawyers explain how copyright law works, who owns the code and how to avoid a dispute around code ownership.

How does copyright law work?

Copyright law is a type of intellectual property law that aims to protect authors/artists from someone else taking their original work and copying it. For example, if you write a musical score and someone else takes that score and claims they created it, they would be breaching your copyright.

If you, as a developer, want to rely on copyright law, you must show that:

1. copyright exists, and

2. you own that copyright

Although this may seem straightforward, the issue can become contentious in situations where you have been contracted by a client to author code or develop a code-based product for them.

Who owns the code?

In the first instance, in the absence of a contract stating otherwise, the person who created the work owns the copyright (in other words, this person is the code owner). If a dispute develops the courts will often rule that the purchaser of the software has a licence to use the code for its commercial intention and for the purposes envisioned by both the freelancer and their customer at the time of the purchase.

But beware, in certain circumstances, it can be implied that you intended for the customer to have final ownership of the code you created.

How do I avoid a dispute around code ownership?

The safest and most effective way to protect your copyright is to draft a detailed software contract specifically setting out the ownership rights of both you and your customers. 

At LawBite, our software solicitors can assist you with drafting a robust contract that mitigates the risk of a copyright dispute. Contact us today to make an appointment with one of our team.

Get legal assistance from LawBite

Need legal assistance? Our expert software lawyers can help you ensure you are protected. Many businesses own far more copyrights than they realise. It's important to know what copyrights your business has in relation to the work you create for your brand, otherwise you may not be able to exploit them successfully. Also, the less you know about copyright law for UK businesses, the more likely it is that someone could infringe on your rights.

Our lawyers can give you the legal advice you need and review and draft the business contracts your company needs. They can help you work through issues arising in this area, such as; the negotiation of commercial terms, delivery specifications, service level agreements and ownership of intellectual property. To find out more book a free 15-minute consultation with one of our lawyers or call us on 020 3808 8314.


Additional resources

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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