Copyright confusion

Posted: Wednesday, 16 November 2011 @ 16:28

Navigating my way around Linked In recently I spotted a question in one of my groups which highlighted a real misunderstanding about the important issue of copyright. From the answers given I suspected the questioner would be no clearer, as many seemed to be contradictory. So I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to unravel the complex area of copyright law and provide simple answers to what seem to be the most common questions.

The original question was asked in a very particular way, which may have caused some of the confusion. “Do I need to register copyright material in the UK?

Now the first point is – does the questioner mean ‘need’ to, or should? Are they asking whether they need to for legal reasons before they can even use the copyright material? Or do they mean should I register my materials?

The answer to the first question is – you don’t have to register copyright in the UK and in fact there is no official register of copyright holders. If you want to try and protect your materials against someone else using them or passing them off as their own, one thing I recommend you should do is mark your work to show you are the owner. A well recognised way of doing this is to use the international copyright symbol © followed by your name and the year the material was created, ©Sue Mann, 2011 for example. This shows you are the owner of the copyright and allows people to contact you, if they want to use your material in any way.

Copyright is often misunderstood. Unlike some of the registered rights, such as patents, it does not give you a monopoly, nor does it protect your ideas, only original works. It is not the ownership of something but it is the right to prevent others from copying your material.

What can I do to protect against copyright theft?

It’s not easy to be honest. We suggest you put a copyright notice on anything you create. If you want to protect software, put some redundant hidden code so if somebody simply copies the software this can be used as evidence of the original creator.

Leaving a dated copy of your work with a solicitor, or posting a copy of your work to yourself by special delivery, leaving the dated package unopened, may help to show in any legal proceedings that you had the work in your possession at that time. But this is not a fool proof way to prove that you are the author or owner of the work.

What can I do if somebody copies my copyright work?

The first step would be to approach them and tell them to stop using it. If this is not successful ultimately you can sue for an injunction and an order allowing the items in question to be seized. Damages are possible and legal costs are usually paid back. Proving copyright ownership is often the trickiest point. There is a range of possible actions available. The most appropriate course for you will depend on the circumstances of your case, so the best thing to do is to take advice at an early stage to keep your options open and find out what would be best for you.

By the way – this blog falls under Cousins Business Law’s copyright ownership – but we are very willing to give permission for others to reuse the content, provided they acknowledge its source and include a link to www.business-lawfirm.co.uk.

Sue Mann
Commercial Solicitor Birmingham

Blog by Sue Mann
Sue is an experienced commercial solicitor based in Birmingham from where she helps businesses all over the country advising on, drafting, and reviewing business contracts and commercial agreements. View profile
Call Sue on +44 (0)121 246 4437 or by email
This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

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Thank you. Your response is great, very straight to the point! Hopefully this will bring an end to the matter. I will certainly be recommending your services as I am very impressed with the prompt dealing of this matter.
Janet Burbidge

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