Copyright Law – The Basics

22 Nov 2021

For many people, copyright law as a concept isn’t always clear. Too often, uncertainty exists around whether the copyright is owned by them, or what could happen if it’s copied without their permission. In order to better navigate the complexities of copyright law, we’ve explained here a few key rules.

The Basics Of Copyright Law

It’s possible to register ownership of trade marks and other intellectual property types in the United Kingdom, but this isn’t possible with copyright. A piece of work has to be original in order to establish ownership for copyright protection. There are incredibly intricate laws that surround copyright originality and for a piece of work to be viewed as original, it’s often sufficient that just some elements of it are original. 

In general, the rule is that the copyright’s creator is its owner. So, if several people created one piece of work (in the case of co-authors, for example), the ownership is joint. However, work created by an employee during the course of their normal employment will typically be under the employer’s ownership. 

UK law recognises the concepts of secondary and primary copyright infringements. 

What Is Primary Copyright Infringement?

In the United Kingdom, any of these acts without the copyright owner’s consent will be viewed as an infringement of copyright: 

  • Copying a piece of copyright work (including the reproduction of the printed page in typed, handwritten or photocopied format). This also includes copies of music that has been recorded. 
  • Publicly lending the piece of work.
  • Issuing to the public copies of a piece of copyright work.
  • Playing, showing or performing the copyright work in a public place including performing music or a play, or showing videos or films in public. 
  • Adapting a copyright work (this includes any of the acts mentioned above relating to that adaptation).
  • Communicating a copyright work to the public.

What Is Secondary Copyright Infringement?

It’s also viewed as an infringement if someone authorises or facilitates another person to carry out any of the acts mentioned above. This is called “secondary infringement”. It arises if a restricted act is carried out in respect either or the entire or a large part of a copyright work, either indirectly or directly. 

As an example, if you’ve imported merchandise including messages that have been copied illegally, then sell that merchandise to the public, you’re committing secondary infringement and there’s a risk that a claim could be brought against you. This applies even though you were not personally responsible for making the copy. You will still be held responsible for the monitoring of items you facilitate or import. 

How To Stop Copyright Infringement

To successfully stop copyright infringement strong facts must be marshalled and tactical actions must be taken. There are several approaches that can be considered depending on the facts. Typically, the approach would be the following: 

  • Gathering of information. We’ll examine your work as well as the work that infringes your copyright to determine whether a case for infringement exists. 
  • You must them communicate with the infringer to inform them you have an objection and ask them to cease. Before any procedure is begun, we always try to settle a claim through a reasonable settlement proposal since this is cheaper and quicker than taking the case to court in most circumstances. 

A settlement discussion may run alongside court action. Several court actions can be considered. We may apply for an injunction that will prevent your work from being communicated, broadcasted, published or sold. The result of this is that the work must be removed, stopping future slippage of revenue. To recover your lost revenue (lost sales, for example), you can then seek damages. 

Mediation is something that you should consider before you begin court action. Medication can be very successful and is quicker and cheaper than going to court. 

Moral Rights And Reputation

A copyright creator’s reputation and personal brand will be protected automatically by the “moral rights” concept in common law. There are only applicable to copyright and can be waived only by giving express written assent. They can’t be assigned. 

Which Moral Rights Can Be Protected?

Unless moral rights have been expressly waived, the original author benefits from the following moral rights protections: 

  • To be identified as a copyright work’s director or author.
  • To be able to object to a copyright work’s derogatory treatment – as an example your right is to prevent other people from changing your work then using that work in ways that you oppose. 
  • To suffer no false attribution of the copyright work – as an example, if you’re a singer then somebody pretends to be you, using the reputation that you’ve built up to promote the songs they have written it’s your right to have no association with those songs. 
  • To retain privacy with respect to certain photographs and films you’ve commissioned for personal or private use. 

Achieving The Desired Result 

There are risks that revolve around the concept of moral rights that will be different dependant on whether you’re a purchaser or seller of a copyright. 

If we’re advising you as a purchaser of a copyright under a licence or other commercial agreement, we’ll always raise a moral rights waiver so the purchaser can be protected from any claims risks. 

If we’re advising you on a copyright sale, we’ll bear in mind whether or not the author requires express exclusion of use to protect their branding and reputation. The moral rights concept in common law doesn’t include express exclusions. Therefore, unless this is dealt with within a commercial agreement an author can be potentially exposed. 

As experts in the field, we are ideally placed to give you all the necessary advice about copyright law that you need to stay protected in the event of a copyright purchase or sale. We can help you to determine whether you have a case that is likely to succeed and help to facilitate mediation or court action as appropriate on your behalf to resolve the issues that you’re facing.