Copyright Infringement and Breach of Copyright
Copyright Infringement is one of the most common forms of contentious IP activity.
Here at Virtuoso Legal we are experts in all aspects of intellectual property; and have seen copyright infringement in all of its many forms.
Despite this, whether:
- you think someone has copied you, or
- have been accused of infringement…
…the topic can be confusing – and it is important to be sure of your position before taking any action.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is an intellectual property legal right. It grants the author of an original creative work, a set of exclusive rights for its use and distribution.
In the United Kingdom, Copyright is not a registered right and is protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
In some other countries (most notably the USA), you have to register creative works to be protected by law.
In the United Kingdom, however, Copyright automatically “subsists” in the work when it is made. As such, the creator has protective rights over original work as soon as it is made.
Copyright prevents others from:
- Creating copies of original work
- Distributing copies of it
- Renting copies or lending
- Exhibiting the work to the public
- Adapting the work
- Releasing it on the internet
As a right entitles the creator of the work to deny others from utilising the work in these ways; or grant licenses to do so.
Often, licensing use of copyrighted works is a great way for creators of original works to generate revenue.
What kinds of things are protected by Copyright?
Copyright protects original creative works. But the scope of what constitutes “creative works” is quite large.
- Literary, dramatic and musical works (Lasts 70 years after the author’s death)
- Artistic works
- Sound recordings (70 years from when it has first been published)
- Films (70 years after the death of: director, script writer and composer)
- Broadcasts (50 years from when it’s first broadcast)
- Cable programmes
- Published editions (e.g. Magazines, serialised parts of larger literary works) (25 years from when it’s first published)
As such – most original creations are covered – should they not be protected by other forms of registered or unregistered IP rights.
Copyright protects the expression, not the idea
Most importantly, it protects the original expression of an idea and not the idea itself. This is often an aspect of copyright that is overlooked.
For example, famous novelist JK Rowling owns the rights to all of the Harry Potter books. She does not, however, own rights for the idea of a book detailing the adventure of a boy who goes to a magic school and fights an evil wizard nemesis. This means that people are able to create books in a similar vein (though they might find the competition a bit formidable!)
What is “Copyright Infringement” or “Breach of Copyright”?
Copyright infringement refers to the use of an original creative work, without the permission of the copyright holder. Generally speaking in the UK, the creator of the original work holds the rights to their original creations.
There are exceptions to this rule, when the creator of the piece of work is an employee . In this case, the copyright for works that are created default to the employer – unless otherwise stated in an employment contract. Note: this does not apply for freelancers, unless a contract is drafted which assigns the copyright of the original work over to the hiring party.
To avoid infringement occurring, parties should seek to contact the copyright holder and obtain a license to use the work.
What are some common examples of Copyright Infringement?
As intellectual property solicitors, we see a number of common copyright infringement scenarios. These include unauthorised:
- Use of photographic (or other kinds of) images on websites
- Cloning or copying of websites or significant portions of online material (especially acute when undertaken by a competitor, taking advantage of confusion or gaining an advantage in website SEO.)
- Copying of application source code (or significant chunks of it) to create a duplicate or derivative software program.
- A freelance developer to build a website or application for a business, but retains the copyright.
- Disclosure and use of databases e.g. business critical customer and supplier lists
- Appropriation or adaptation of educational resources
And many more.
In some of these instances, there is not much commercial damage resulting form infringement. These cases are less severe, but should be treated seriously. In other cases, commercial damage is profound and infringement should be strategically addressed immediately by intellectual property solicitors (e.g. through the drafting of cease and desist letters and legal proceedings to limit negative impact and seek damages where applicable).
Is Copyright enforceable overseas?
Various international agreements exist which protect copyright overseas (e.g. the Berne Convention).
However the extent to which protection is enforceable overseas, depends on the particulars of the situation. If you are unsure, seek advice from an intellectual property solicitor.
What should I do if I suspect someone has copied me?
If you suspect that someone else has copied your original work you should do the following:
- Do not contact the suspected infringer, this will alert them of your suspicion and as such, limit your ability to collect evidence of copying
- Collect as much evidence of copying (and any damage resulting from it) as possible and document this in as detailed a way as possible. This should include the time and date that you captured the evidence
- Contact an intellectual property solicitor to seek further advice – providing them the evidence that you have collected. They will then advise you on the best course of legal action
What should I do if I receive a letter saying I have copied someone else?
If you have been accused of copyright infringement, you should do the following;
- Carefully review the claim that has been made against you. Is it a solicitor’s letter, or does it come directly from a claimant? Review the seriousness of the claim.
- If you have received a formal solicitor’s letter – contact an intellectual property solicitor, immediately
- Review the extent that claims made against you are true. Make a note of how damaging your alleged infringement is said to be to the claimant.
- Take steps halt any infringement immediately. Make a detailed note of the actions that you have taken and communicate this to your solicitor.
- If you have not received a solicitors’ letter but have been accused and have been contacted again or still remain unsure of your position; contact an intellectual property solicitor for further advice
Above all, in each case it is important to not act without the required consideration.
If you are still unsure, or if you want to ask a question that has be not been answered here; contact our IP team using the enquiry form below:
Or, if you prefer, you can call one of our intellectual property solicitors on:
0113 237 9900