Whether you’re building a website, putting a video together for a client presentation, or preparing marketing or advertising copy, you need to be careful of copyright law. It’s there to protect people’s work in creating images, words, music and so on, and those are valuable resources. It’s easy to infringe copyright. But it’s just as easy to avoid doing so. And here are some straightforward ways to make sure you don’t inadvertently infringe someone else’s rights.
Check the age of the work
The detailed rules are quite complicated, but in general terms copyright protection lasts quite a long time. For older works, the protection was shorter; for more modern works (generally created since 1996) it is significantly longer. It is a reasonable presumption that anything created in the last 50 years is still under protection. Translations are new works, even if the original is old, and the translator is entitled to copyright protection. For sound recordings (such as musical performances) and broadcasts, there is copyright in the recording as well as what it was that was being recorded. So a modern recording of a piece of music that itself is long out of copyright will still be protected.
Check whether copyright protection has been waived
Often, creators of works are happy for their work to be used free, and without specific permission. This is often true of photographs that can be found on dedicated sites on the internet. But remember that
- they may require the creator to be mentioned or attributed in order for the use to be authorised
- even if a photograph is free of protection, the subject of the photograph may not be. For example, a photo of a painting in an art gallery. The photographer may have waive his protection, but the painter may not have.
Check whether what you are doing infringes copyright
In summary, the principal ways in which a third party can infringe the copyright in a work are:
- Copying it;
- Issuing copies of to the public;
- Renting or lending it to the public;
- Performing, showing or playing it in public;
- Communicating it to the public;
- Adapting it.
- Various commercial dealings – such as importing, selling, hiring etc, articles which are infringing copies (eg mugs with infringing photographs on them)
- If copyright has been licensed, acting outside the scope of their licence.
One important thing to remember is that copyright doesn’t have to be registered. As soon as something is created, the person who made it is protected against copying. Copyright registration agencies do exist, but that is a service that helps people show evidence of such things as their own authorship or the date of creation. As a general rule, you can’t make unauthorised commercial use of someone else’s copyright material. Even people who have waived their copyright protection for private use might object if you are using their work for your profit. Similarly, other people can’t make money out of yours.
Letter before action: What to do about infringement of copyright
If you think someone is infringing your copyright, you’ll want to think about stopping them. And the first thing to do might be to send a Letter before action – pointing out their infringement and requiring them to stop. It isn’t usually a requirement to do so – you could go straight for legal proceedings – but it greatly increases the chances of a quick and advantageous conclusion. If the infringement you are complaining of is dealing with infringing copies, it is very important to give notice before action, so that the other person can be shown to have known that they were acting in contravention of your rights.
Watch out for more on this soon.