Page 1 of 1

Website authors

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 4:19 pm
by marshall153

I am working for a company that has just set up a new online magazine.

Most of the content is user submitted, also including weekly columns and regular posts.

I was wondering what the legalities are regarding who owns the material. These writers are not formally employed by the company, nor have signed a contract. If a relationship were to turn sour, who would have copyright over the pieces that have been written?

What would your advice be to make sure we are not leaving ourselves legally vulnerable?


Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 5:20 pm
by AndyJ
Hi marshall,

In the absence of an employment or other contract, the authors will retain copyright in their submissions unless they enter into a written agreement (see section 90(3)) with the publishers which assigns copyright to the publishers. That said in submitting their work (and in exchange for a fee?) the authors are implicitly licensing the website to publish their work, and again in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, this licence would be expected to last for as long as the publisher wished to retain the article on the website - even if the relationship turned sour and the author asked for his/her work to be removed. However, again absent any contrary stipulation, the author would also be free to offer their work elsewhere, since an implied licence would not be presumed to be exclusive to your website alone. Any declarations on the website should acknowledge that copyright belongs to the individual contributors.

If this arrangement suits the publisher (and the authors), then there is no legal reason to change it as it will be cheaper (assuming you do pay contributors) and won't adversely affect the day-to-day work of the website.

It might be sensible to have a lawyer draw up a very simple agreement (or even just a set of terms and conditions) covering submissions so that contributors are aware of their position regarding copyright and the publisher's rights in relation to submissions.

Although not something it would be appropriate to go into at length on this forum, you also need to consider the publisher's liability for any claim of defamation, or perhaps less likely, criminal incitement, arising from the submissions etc. As long as the publisher takes no role in commissioning, moderating or editing submissions, then they may well be protected by the so-called safe harbour rules, but if they either commission or moderate/edit (or both) any material prior to it being put on the site, they will almost certainly become liable, should defamation or incitement be alleged.

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 11:38 pm
by marshall153
Thank you Andy, that is great help.