Your idea – your hot property, or is it ripe for the picking?

Seems easy enough – have a great idea, make it public, make people pay for it, watch the money roll in. Decades ago, this is exactly what artists and writers, rock stars and musicians were doing, their work was protected by their Intellectual Property Rights and royalty payments were the way they reaped their rewards. Back then, their material was physically much harder to copy – and much more effort was required to make use of it.

Today, photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, musicians, artists and illustrators can all benefit by publishing their work on the internet, but it’s all too easy for other people to misappropriate it without paying a cent. Even reasonably large organisations can fall into the trap of thinking if they found it on Google, it’s theirs for the taking. But intellectual property, just like physical property has real value as evidenced by the endless legal squabbles going on between the likes of Apple and Google, Samsung and Amazon as they try to nick each others ideas and dispute who owns what, and who thought of it first.

In a nutshell, if you create something original, you own it. You may exploit it exactly as you wish but if other people simply copy it and use it for their own commercial benefit this is theft and there are now international laws to protect you.

Many perpetrators of intellectual theft are under the illusion that the originator of the work will never know they’ve pinched it. But the bad news for them is that there are now web-based programmes such as Image Raider and Image Search, that will actually alert the original owner if their work is being used illicitly on the internet and where it’s being used. Copy Sentry (as used by teachers to spot plagiarised text in students’ essays), provides alerts when it spots duplicate copy.

So protect your intellectual property, before someone else steals it.

Basically, if you create something original, you own all the rights to it and you may choose to exploit it as you see fit. Anyone else wishing to benefit commercially from your work must first secure your permission and possibly make a royalty payment of some sort. There are limited exceptions, mostly concerning reviews and educational use, but, as a rule, just because a piece of your work is in the public domain of the world wide web does not mean that it is publicly available for all and sundry to use.

Here in Devon and Cornwall, with some of the most popular holiday destinations in the country, tourism is an important business.  Laudably owners of self catering cottages, small hotels and B&Bs have their own websites that are often set up and run by the owners themselves.  Most of these sites show their nearby beauty spots which is key to attracting visitors. When building their websites it is natural they will look on Google Images and other local sites to see what is available. Unfortunately, and often quite innocently, they copy these images for their own site unaware that they are, in fact, stealing someone’s IP.  Using a professional photographer’s work (and the best images are usually produced by the professionals) for commercial gain without their permission and without a credit is depriving them of what is rightfully theirs, namely a living. For many local photographers these relatively modest usage fees enable them to invest in the expensive equipment and software they need to do their job let alone the encouragement to get to remote locations at the crack of dawn to capture scenes we like to dream about.


Many of the larger public libraries offer information, help and advice regarding intellectual property, copyright, trademarks and registering designs.

The government’s Intellectual Property Office website has searchable databases and offers do-it-yourself services if you think you can do without a patent agent or lawyer.

See our articles: Plagiarism, copyright and passing off,

How do I register my new logo?

How do I check if a name is registered?