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30th April, 2020

Intellectual Property: Content Online – Confidentiality and Copyright

Ruth Soetendorp, Visiting Professor of the University of the Arts London Visiting Academic, Cass Business School, City, University of London Professor Emerita, Bournemouth University Associate Director, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management Intellectual Property Awareness Network Education Group founding convenor HEA National Teaching Fellow

It is not surprising that the particular constraints imposed by Covid-19 and lockdown would generate a spike in curiosity about IP rights, and how to manage them, by people wanting to share, publicise and commercialise their ideas through the various digital platforms available.  


What is IP? Why is it important at this time? Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is the way in which the international legal system allows innovators, creators, inventors to protect their intellectual creativity in order to commercialise it.  The IP system covers different rights including patents for inventions, design rights for designs of articles, trade marks for names and logos that allow brands to be built, and copyright for original (i.e. you can prove it originated from you) expressions of music, recordings, broadcasts, literature, film, and software that are ‘fixed’ digitally, in writing or some other form.  Your copyright is recognised through most of the world with no need to register.  A copyright notice on your work alerts others:  © +Your Name + The Year the work was created.  See my © notice below. 


You are responsible for protecting your work from infringers and copiers.  If you find it copied, without your permission, you can’t report that to the police or any other agency.  Similarly, it is your responsibility to ensure that you don’t even unintentionally, infringe someone else’s IP rights.  There is lots of free advice available.  Here are two suggestions: 

UK Intellectual Property Office – copyright and      

Copyrightuser –


Your creativity starts with an idea which is precious, but also vulnerable.  First step to protecting an idea is to resist the desire to broadcast it.  Take reasonable steps to keep it confidential, because so long as it is an idea, there’s no other way to protect it.  Share it with persons who accepts that they are being told about in confidence.  A confidentiality, or non-disclosure, agreement is a document that sets out the information you are sharing, and what the recipient can do with it.    Good examples of agreements are available for free at

Keep a record of what is agreed.  But be prepared.  An NDA is no guarantee that your confidentiality will be respected.  It is a signal that you are aware of your IP rights, that you believe your idea has value, and that if it comes to the crunch, and your confidentiality was breached (or disregarded) you may have the right to sue.


What materials will you use in your work?  Don’t wilfully or inadvertently use material that belongs to someone else.  Check whether it is in copyright (, whether you should you be seeking permission to use it ( Or if it is free to use  under a creative commons licence (   Be aware that Creative Commons licences cannot be revoked once they have been applied to a work.   So if you have used material that is covered by a creative commons licence that permission cannot be changed.  NB If you are using material covered by a creative commons licence in an original work of your own, your work will be caught by the creative commons licence terms.  Check!


What are you hoping to do with the material you create? Are you planning to share it digitally, online via e.g. YouTube or Airbnb Experiences, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom?  Is the material involved in videos, launched via Vimeo?  These questions are important because the different platforms have different business models, which determine their different terms and conditions.  You should check out the T&C of the platform you use.  EG  YouTube (  is different from  Airbnb Experience (“Respect other people’s work: Hosts should not use ….copyrighted works that they didn’t create without securing the necessary rights, licences, and permissions.”)

If you want to protect the format of your work, the format per se is not protectable by an intellectual property right as such, but by a combination of legal provisions.  Can you breakdown your format into elements that might be protectable including trade marks, design rights and copyright?


Questions frame this blog.  What we learnt from Boosting Resilience is that when it comes to intellectual property, it is important to keep asking questions about the IP issues your work might present.  In addition to business advisers and colleagues, there are many free resources, see above.


PS  The Open Covid-19 Pledge has been undertaken by a growing number of global corporations, legal firms and academic research institutions who pledge to make their intellectual property available free of charge for use in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimizing the impact of the disease.  

Whatever you decide to do with the IPR you create is up to you, but do it knowingly, and try not to leave yourself vulnerable.


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