Why should awarding bodies care about copyright?

Awarding bodies develop and use any number of products which attract intellectual property rights, such as syllabuses, module content and assessments. As an awarding body, these products are among your most valuable assets. The development of innovative and rigorous products distinguishes your organisation from competitors and helps to ensure that learners value your qualifications. If other organisations can copy your materials with impunity then the value of your product and overall brand can be seriously diminished.

Awarding bodies need to recognise where copyright arises, how it can be asserted, and where the rights of others should be protected.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property (IP) right which seeks to protect certain works from being copied by anyone who is not their author or current owner.

In order to assert copyright you must first be sure that the work you wish to protect is original, and that it is capable of being protected in this way. A wide range of materials - written materials, drawings, sound recordings and broadcasts - can all be protected by copyright. As can be seen from this list, copyright protects forms of expression, but it does not protect abstract concepts or their originators.

Are you the copyright owner?

It is important when using a work created or jointly produced by consultants or other external suppliers to ensure that you have a written agreement with them under which intellectual property rights are assigned to your organisation. Otherwise, as the first owner of the work, such third parties will continue to own the copyright of any work they authored.

If your organisation does not own the copyright to all of its materials then the value of them cannot be fully exploited and you may risk a claim for breach of copyright from the owner. Such a claim could not only prove costly but also prevent your organisation from using certain materials.

Always check the terms of your organisation’s agreements with the external contractors or consultants. The assignment of IP rights in such situations is usually not contentious – this is part of what you are paying for.

Alternatively a license agreement permitting your organisation to use the copyrighted material could be used but its terms should be clear. Ensuring that an assignment or licence are agreed when your organisation wishes to use copyright works which you did not create could avoid serious problems arising at a later date and will avoid the risk of the creator holding you to ransom or demanding that you cease using the copyright work altogether.

How can you protect your own copyright?

Copyright does not need to be registered in order for material to be protected. However, should there ever be a dispute concerning copyright ownership, it is helpful to maintain evidence of authorship as the first owner of a work’s copyright is its author (unless it is created by an employee for the purpose of your business).

Following creation there should be a clear chain of ownership established by assignment (sale of the copyright) or licensing (sharing the copyright). Where a copyright work has more than one owner the consent of all are needed for the copyright to be successfully assigned or licensed.

Be sure to label all works over which your organisation wishes to assert copyright as:

“copyright [name of your awarding body]”

This will not confer copyright protection if there is none (for example if the work was not, in fact, original) but it will signal to others that your organisation considers the work to be copyright protected and that it should not be copied.

How can you avoid infringement of others’ copyright?

Finally, remember that other organisations own copyright works too! When carrying out research, or incorporating other sources into your work, make sure you check whether they are copyright protected. For example, many images can be sourced from internet searches but you should check the source and consider whether they are in fact free to use in this way. This requires practical considerations – what due diligence does your organisation carry out when potentially using the copyright work of others? Make sure you have checks and policies in place and adequate training for your staff and others who are creating work for you.


There are practical steps you can take to protect your valuable copyright assets and to avoid infringing the copyright of others. Make sure you know what these are – and that your team does too!

Posted on 19/10/2015 in Legal Updates

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