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Copyright issues with an ex-client


After several years, I recently finished working with a client (a training company). I have subsequently found that they are planning to employ another trainer and give them all of my (copyrighted) materials to work with. They have electronic and paper copies as they used to prepare them for use in my training sessions there.

I am planning to talk to a solicitor but any other advice would be greatly appreciated.


Janet Baker

8 Responses

  1. Not much help but ….
    Hi Janet

    This sounds a bit of a nightmare. I don’t have any suggestions for you really, more an assumption that others might disagree with.

    The issue of copyright is one that often gets discussed when trainers get together. My take on this has always been that, if the client has paid you for development time as well as delivery, then they have a right to the materials and to do with them what they will. Of course, this may not be what has happened with you.

    If you have retained copyright you could always telephone them saying that you’re delighted they want to use your material and when would be a convenient time to meet to negotiate your fee for allowing them to?

    Hope you get lots of good advice here.


  2. jennifer is a sly fox
    Hi Janet

    I’d go with the recommendation in Jennifer’s last paragraph….it is lovely; if they are actually decent folk with no axes to grind they’ll deal and if they are planning on doing the dirty on you, then they will have to come clean, even if only by ignoring you.

    I like it!

  3. The materials are ones I developed personally before working wit
    Thank you for your comments so far. I do like the idea of letting them know there would be a fee for using them!!!

    The materials are ones I developed personally before I started working with them, so they have not contributed in any way to the development of them, they purely paid for my time and provision of the notes for the courses I delivered.

    After nearly three years, the client ended things rather acrimoniously, due to refusing to pay a particular fee – to which they had previously (verbally) agreed – and it was mutually agreed to terminate the contract.

  4. Copyright

    My main advice would be to be crystal clear that the materials you mentioned are actually copyrighted. Just writing that on your documents does not make them so. If they are then they are in infringement of the copyright and must therefore seek your approval.

    Good luck – K

  5. Copyright materials
    What a shame. But I do agree with the advice below. You will need to think of a price – in case they take up your offer – that reflects the intellectual value of the materials. You may also want to give conditional permission to use them (eg 100 copies per year, only for course X, only with a link to you web site shown in size 12 font at the bottom of each page). These things are hard to police but those who agree to pay are more likely to play be the rules.
    If they get awkward they may ask for proof that the materials are your original work. If they claimed, for example, that the materials were written for them or their course, they might claim copyright even if you wrote them at weekends and not explicitly as part of the contract.
    One tip (more for others rather than for you in your present situation): if you author something original that you think is of significant value, print it, sign it to say it is solely your work, get someone else to sign to witness your signature and attest, to the best of their knowledge, it is your work, then post it to yourself registered post. When it arrives, don’t open it. Put aside as evidence in case you ever need it. There are other ways but this is a simple and reliable method. It would then be up to the other party to prove not just who authored it but the same material existed prior to the date of the letter.
    This is a palaver for everday handouts but is worth considering if you ever produce a manual, a model or anything worth ‘acquiring’.
    Best of luck

  6. Things have moved on…
    Having spoken to a solicitor and confirming my rights, I emailed my requirements to the company (basically asking that they delete electronic copies and destroy or return to me paper copies, then confirming in writing to me that they have done this). I have received an extremely abusive phonecall in return from the MD telling me he will not pay any outstanding fees to me, will get the best solicitor in the land and will “have me” for this!

    Such professionalism… and I still don’t know what I have done “wrong”!

    Further legal advice is to stick to my guns re. copyrighted materials and to take them through the Small Claims Court for the outstanding fees (+ costs).

    Long and interesting talks about copyright of materials, etc. – too much to go into here but well worth TZ getting someone legal to do an article on it?!!

    Thanks so much for your comments – really appreciate them! Definitely a situation trainers and other freelancers need to be fully aware of.

  7. one step at a time
    Janet – do not go to the small claims for this – it will limit what you can claim.

    If they do not pay outstanding money – then go to small claim court about this. They will have to pay this – i.e. the court will find in your favour. Then you can use the fact that they lost as additional evidence to threaten taking them to a higher court for full damages – they will not have a leg to stand on. You can then mention license fees for work already delivered using your materials.

    Send them a letter saying that you have not recieved a reply – make sure you write “without prejudice” across the top of the letter – and all communications with them from now on.

    And that you will be instructing your solicitor to act and when you win.

    Send all letters by recorded delivery.

    It seems like this individual is a bit of a bully – stand up to them – you might even want to send them an email showing this thread!!

    Going to court will also put this company in the public gaze and will not be good for their business – and it will put a CCJ against them – do they have any at the moment – an experian check will show this…

    It is sad when this happens –
    Good luck

  8. Stand up for your rights
    Janet, just to let you know that a Trainer friend of mine took a similar case up against a large well-known credit card company who intended to use his material themselves in-house. After 6 months of wrangling he won £15,000.
    Keep at it!


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