4. Think before you share and don’t leave samples around
Think carefully before sharing detailed information with others. Ask yourself why you’re sharing it, how much detail is required and what value it will add to a conversation.
Also, avoid leaving samples or designs with others unless you really have to. But if you have left a design with someone, confirm in writing exactly what it is, what it can be used for, and that it is confidential material.
This applies even more so if you hope to persuade a company to commercialise your work, as they will be keen to keep it under wraps until they launch it. You can potentially damage such opportunities if your work is all over social media, for example. It’s also worth noting that the way you present yourself to companies and manage your business can have an impact on the way they treat your work. A professional approach can make it less likely for others to misuse your work.
5. Use written agreements, and for anything top-secret: an NDA
Written agreements can cover anything that is important to you, including how you will be credited as the artist. Even when you don’t own the IP, you can get permission in writing to use images or more in your portfolio or website. An agreement does not have to be a complicated legal document. If you don't have the funds to engage a lawyer, a simple letter signed by both parties will suffice. Emails can also be used to prove what has been agreed.
Confidentiality agreements (known as non-disclosure agreements or NDAs) control what others are able to do with the information you share with them. I would advise using a template agreement from a trusted source such as GOV.UK. However, be sure to get them signed by an authorised signatory, otherwise they may not be valid in law (see more about that here). Once signed, these are legally binding documents that are very commonly used in business to protect IP and sensitive commercial information. Do allow plenty of time to get a written agreement in place; both parties will want to review it, and you may need to tweak it – we are potentially talking weeks not days!
Obviously trust your judgement on when it’s appropriate to introduce an NDA, but don’t worry about putting people off working with you if you ask them to sign one. If they are reluctant this could be an early indicator of their lack of professionalism and good intent!
6. If you’re a student, check college regulations
Colleges vary in their IP policies for students and staff, so it is your responsibility to read the college’s regulations. Some colleges are more extensive in their coverage than others. For example, it is possible for them to claim some IP ownership over your personal projects if you have made extensive use of college facilities.
If the college owns the IP, you must tell them in advance if you wish to share information about your project or collaborate with an external party. If they own the IP they will need to be the signatory on any paperwork.
7. Learn from others
You can’t beat learning from other creatives who have been there before. Don’t be afraid to approach your peers or fellow alumni to ask for advice and tips. Speak to others who are a little further on in their creative journey about their IP experiences – good and bad! Alumni networks can also be a great source of support.
8. Consider getting a lawyer
Many lawyers are incredibly sympathetic to early-stage creatives and will do their best to keep costs down, so it’s definitely worth seeking their guidance to manage your IP. They really can help to pre-empt issues and get your agreements in order. If you can afford it, think of a lawyer as an investment that will save you time and stress in the longterm.
Use your networks to get recommendations for law firms and always get a couple of quotes for work. Lawyers commonly give a half hour or so of their time for free to understand your needs a bit better. To make best use of their time, make a list of the things you want to discuss in advance, and always check if their quotes include VAT, as 20% can add a big chunk to the bill!
9. Make sure you’re not copying
Lastly, IP is a two-way street. It can be very stressful and time-consuming to receive a ‘cease and desist’ letter from a lawyer representing a client who believes you are infringing their IP rights. Avoid this by doing internet searches to see what is already out there, and also use one of the many free online search tools to check for similar IP that has already been registered by others (see here for IP resources in our further-reading list).
For an introduction to IP, an overview of your rights and further resources and reading, see Pauline’s article from last week.