Freelancers in the UK’s IT contracting community may well want to heed advice recently given by a leading legal expert. Solicitor Gary Cousins, who co-founded the law firm Cousins Business Law, has been advising IT contractors on the rules governing the copyright of software design.

The rules are relatively straightforward: if an IT freelancer is the author of a software design, they will in most cases also own the copyright – unless, that is, they were acting officially in the role of employee. In order to avoid subsequent disputes, Mr Cousins urges contractors to look carefully at their contracts to be clear about whether or not they have “assigned” the copyright for their designs to the consultancy or organisation they have been working for.

Writing for ContractorUK, Mr Cousins explained that assignment of copyright in general must be in writing in order to be legally binding. Sometimes, however, in the event of a dispute, courts will decide that, where work has been produced to order, there was an “implied” assignment. Courts will take into consideration the history of the contractor’s involvement with a consultancy, the purpose and nature of the designs and any written instructions before reaching their decision.

Mr Cousin’s remarks came in response to a question from a contractor who had been asked to remove his online portfolio. The consultancy he had previously worked for had threatened legal action as they insisted his portfolio contained designs belonging to them, even though there was no written contract or Non-disclosure agreement involved.

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