Innovation and enterprise blog

23 May 2016

Writer in Residence Update: No Copyright? Wonderful!

Because I spent many years in business focused on developing new products I’m always looking for inspiration. New products rarely appear out of nowhere, instead we think of them because we see something that gets us thinking in a different way. I’ve been planning a new workshop for June based on using some of the British Library’s archival materials and I think there’s a whole new world to be explored when developing new products: the realms of expired copyright.

Alice in Wonderland: an out of copyright bestseller

Recently the British Library held an Alice in Wonderland exhibition, with an accompanying pop-up shop. So hugely popular was the shop that it stayed open well past the planned closure date. Most of the items were sourced through small independent designer-makers. Alice in Wonderland, of course, is a wonderful source of inspiration: it is a beloved classic, full of witty writing and illustrated with memorable flair. More importantly, it is out of copyright, and therefore any designer-maker is can develop their own interpretations of it and may freely use both the original text and illustrations. The result was badges, chocolates, clothing, colouring books, umbrellas, crockery, toys, bags and many more items.

So while copyright is an important protection, at the moment when it expires (in the UK, 70 years after the death of its creator, to give you a very rough idea – you should always check each item individually for any exceptions but there are experts on hand in the Business & IP Centre to do just that), it opens up a whole new world of inspiration and product possibilities which could be a goldmine for businesses.

A little exercise for your business


Here is an image used by the British Library in its shop, as a greetings card. It’s taken from a book, Birds of America. What would you have done with this image in your own business? How would you have used that image and the rest of the illustrations within the book for inspiration? Stop reading right now and write down 5 ideas. Right now. I dare you. Thinking out of the box around unusual items often brings us new ideas, whether directly connected or not, so it’s a useful exercise to do regularly.

Here are a few ideas: a game app where you collect endangered birds and protect them from poachers or other dangers; wallpaper (feathers are very ‘in’ right now in interior design); wrapping paper; fabric and lampshades; a children’s story book; the decor for a themed restaurant; branding your ‘kennels for pet birds’ or wildlife sanctuary or aviary; a talk for schools on the importance of conservation; a range of ‘superfood’ products from the Americas.


I’m running a workshop in June where we will be working with ten products taken from the British Library’s archives. All of them are copyright free. We’re going to practice working with them to develop new ideas, as well as exploring the new product development process and how you can make the most of it. We’ll also have an expert with us who will give us tips on how to search the British Library archives and check what you find is usable. You’ll leave buzzing with new ideas and I hope many of them will become real products in time.

There are millions of amazing items just waiting for your business to find them and turn them into bestsellers. Come along and explore.


Melissa Addey on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

Book for Melissa’s upcoming workshop ‘When Copyright Expires: Product development from the archives’ on the 20 June here.