How to form a UK book publishing company that complies with copyright laws?

As an aspiring publisher, navigating the complex landscape of copyright laws may seem daunting. This guide provides you with a comprehensive yet manageable roadmap to forming a successful book publishing company in the UK that operates within the bounds of copyright law. Remember: adherence to these laws is not just about avoiding legal troubles; it is also about respecting the rights of authors and fostering a fair and amicable publishing environment.

Understanding the Basics of Copyright Law

Before embarking on your publishing journey, it's important to understand what copyright law is and how it governs the publication of creative works. In essence, copyright law is a legal framework designed to protect the rights of creators of original works. This includes authors of books, which are the primary focus of publishing companies.

Copyright law gives authors exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and adapt their works. This means that as a publisher, your company cannot legally publish an author's work without their explicit permission. The law also prevents anyone else from doing the same, ensuring that the author retains control over how their work is used and monetised.

In the UK, copyright law is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This legislation provides robust protections for authors and places certain responsibilities on publishers. Understanding these laws is crucial to setting up a compliant publishing company.

Securing Rights from Authors

Once you have a grasp of the basics of copyright law, the next step in forming your publishing company is to secure the rights to publish works from authors. This is typically done through a publishing agreement, wherein the author grants you the permission to publish their work.

In these agreements, specifics matter. You will need to detail what rights are being granted, including whether you are being given the rights to publish the work in print, digital format, or both; the geographical territories in which you can publish; and the duration of the agreement.

Bear in mind that authors retain their copyright even when they sign a publishing agreement. What they are doing is granting you a license to publish their work. This is a crucial distinction because it means that the author can revoke this license if you breach the terms of the agreement.

Ensuring Fair Access and Compensation

Copyright law isn't just about securing permissions; it's also about ensuring that authors are fairly compensated for their work. This is achieved through royalties, which are payments made to authors based on the sales of their works. The specifics of how royalties are calculated and paid should be outlined in your publishing agreement.

A standard royalty arrangement could be a percentage of the sale price of each book sold. However, the exact percentage can vary depending on a range of factors, including the author's prestige, the expected sales volume, and whether the book is being sold in print or digital format.

It's important to ensure that your royalty arrangements are fair and transparent. This not only helps to maintain good relations with authors but also keeps you in compliance with copyright law, which in some jurisdictions includes provisions to ensure authors receive fair remuneration.

Navigating Government and Publishers Associations

Forming a publishing company in the UK isn't just about dealing directly with authors. There are also government bodies and industry associations that you will need to contend with.

In terms of government, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the primary body responsible for administering copyright law. The IPO provides resources and guidance to help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a publisher. It also enforces copyright law and can take action if your company is found to be in breach.

In addition to government bodies, there are also publishers associations that can provide support and advocacy for your company. Examples in the UK include the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild. These organisations can help you stay informed about changes to copyright law, provide networking opportunities, and offer resources to improve your business.

Adapting to the Digital Landscape

Finally, it's important to understand how copyright law applies in the digital age. With the rise of e-books and digital publishing, there are additional complications that you will need to navigate.

For example, you will need to consider how to protect digital works from unauthorised copying and distribution. This might involve the use of digital rights management (DRM) technologies, which can help to control access to digital books and prevent piracy.

Furthermore, the digital landscape has led to new forms of publishing agreements, such as those covering electronic rights. Authors may also expect their publishers to help them exploit their rights in the digital sphere, such as through the creation of audiobooks or interactive editions.

Forming a book publishing company in the UK requires careful navigation of the complexities of copyright law. By understanding the basics, securing rights from authors, ensuring fair access and compensation, navigating government and publishers associations, and adapting to the digital landscape, you can lay a solid foundation for a successful and compliant publishing business.

Adopting Open Access and Creative Commons Practices

In the expanding universe of publishing, open access and Creative Commons have become significant elements to consider.

Open access refers to freely accessible digital content. It negates the need for paywalls, making academic and other works readily available to the public. As a publisher, incorporating open access could be beneficial, as it increases the reach of the published works and thereby accentuates their impact. However, it's important to consider that open access may impact the ways in which revenue is generated.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, offers a variety of copyright licenses that creators can use to permit others to share, remix, or use their work, subject to certain conditions. These licenses range from the most permissive, which allows any use provided the original author is credited, to the most restrictive, which only allows others to download works and share them as long as they credit the author, don't change them in any way, and don't use them for commercial purposes.

As a publisher, understanding Creative Commons licenses can be beneficial and give you more flexible options to offer authors. For example, you could publish a work under a Creative Commons license that allows others to freely share the work as long as they attribute it to the original author and your publishing company.

It's crucial to tread carefully here, as the misuse of open access or Creative Commons licenses can lead to legal issues. Always ensure you have a clear understanding of the license under which a copyright work is published and that you have the copyright owner's permission to publish under these terms.

Dealing with Copyright Infringement and Protection Measures

Protecting authors' intellectual property rights is an essential part of a publisher's role. In this context, one must be aware of the potential for copyright infringement.

Infringement occurs when a third party uses a copyright work without the necessary permissions. This might involve reproducing, distributing, or adapting the work, or making it available online. Infringement is a serious matter that can result in legal action and financial penalties.

As a publisher, you have a responsibility to protect the works you publish from infringement. This might involve monitoring the market for unauthorised copies of your books, taking action to have these removed, and, if necessary, initiating legal proceedings against the infringers.

Implementing copyright protection measures can also be beneficial. For example, you could use digital rights management technologies to prevent unauthorised copying and sharing of digital books. You could also include copyright notices in your books to make it clear that the works are protected by copyright and that any unauthorised use is prohibited.

Respecting others' intellectual property rights is equally important. Always seek permission before using someone else's copyrighted work, even if you think your use might qualify as fair dealing. Fair dealing is a legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without the need to obtain permission from the copyright owner, but its application can be complex and is subject to various conditions and exceptions.


To establish a successful book publishing company in the UK, a thorough understanding of copyright laws, securing rights from authors, ensuring fair and equitable compensation, staying abreast of changes in the industry through government bodies and publishers associations, and adapting to the digital landscape are essential. Additionally, understanding and implementing open access and Creative Commons practices can expand the reach and impact of your publishing company.

Moreover, taking effective measures against copyright infringement and ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights not only ensures legal compliance but also helps to foster trust and respect between authors and the publishing company. As a rule of thumb, always respect the rights of authors and other copyright owners, and ensure you operate within the legal boundaries.

As we navigate the future of publishing in the digital age, these principles will continue to shape the industry and protect the rights of authors, ensuring that creative, literary, dramatic, and artistic works continue to flourish. So, whether you're just starting your publishing journey or looking to strengthen your existing company, these guidelines provide a roadmap to a successful and compliant future in the wonderful world of publishing.