Get Off My (Intellectual) Property: What Is Copyright Infringement?

Get Off My Intellectual Property What Is Copyright InfringementIt’s often too easy to underestimate how far the law can reach. Almost as easy as it is to (obliviously) break it; from how long your front yard has to be to the illegality of leaving your home without underwear, justice is as diverse as it is blind. There are many, many rules with regards to almost each and every little thing you can legally shake a stick at. And one of the more noteworthy sides of the law that routinely manages to have its fair share of fear and publicity would have to be copyright infringement. But exactly what is copyright infringement? You’ve heard of it too many times to recount, and you have a broad idea of what it entails. But are you really in the green when it comes to knowing what is copyright infringement? Let’s assume you don’t (pride is for the weak). And instead put you on an educational (but fun) journey through the wondrous world of copyright law.

What Is Copyright Infringement?

What better place to start educating the masses than a (somewhat) simple definition? Though it’s easy to just plop down a simple definition and be done with it, we’re going to take things apart just a little bit; when it comes to matters of the law, especially copyright law, a lot of terms get thrown in the proverbial salad tosser, so to speak. So we’re going to be doing our best to leave no stone of legal age unturned.

It makes more sense to define what a copyright is before answering what is copyright infringement. A copyright is basically a measure the law makes use of to protect the originators of an intellectual property. I hear you in the back there, awkwardly asking what an intellectual property is; an intellectual property is basically anything your mind comes up with. Stuff like art in any form, creations of any nature, and really any ideas that you want to bring to the world. Anything from simply humming out what is essentially an original piece of “music”, to your rough but intriguing designer line of cat boots for winter. When you create something, you’re granted this intangible assortment of rights that aim to protect your creations from misuse. For a long but ultimately limited period of time, you get the exclusive privilege to make as many copies, editions and/or iterations of your own creations for whatever purpose you see fit, usually for publication or sale. Sounds pretty fair so far, right?

If you happen to find yourself in the enviable position of a copyright holder, being the originator of a literary, musical, artistic or really any work of creativity, you pretty much gain the sole right to publish and sell that work whenever and however you want. You also get full control over the reproduction of your intellectual property as well as the (very appealing) right to receive monetary gain for this reproduction. That doesn’t mean it has to be you and only you forever though; An originator of any work can grant or sell the rights they possess to other individuals or entities. You can share it with publishers, recording companies or any other intermediary you think will be of benefit. So with all of this handy dandy info in mind, what is copyright infringement? Basically any violation or transgression of any of these rights and regulations (and more).

Copyrights, Patents and Trademarks, Oh My!

The law tends to get a little confusing when it comes to copyright or any similar term. Hardly anybody can blame you for not knowing the specifics of each and every term and how this is different from that, the law is inherently kind of complicated. So it’s no wonder that a good amount of people seem to not really know the difference between copyrights, patents and trademarks. Often using them interchangeably and to much more diminished effect, kind of like how an equally alarming amount of people seem to say “take things for granite” as opposed to “for granted.” You know who you are and you should be disappointed.

Moving forward though, we can safely say we’ve established what a copyright basically is: an instrument of the law that serves to protect original intellectual properties of varying nature, such as anything from commercial jingles to software, from illegal reproduction and profit. Typically, an individuals copyright protection on original works lasts for their entire lifetime, regardless of how long that may be (aim for a comfy 42) in addition to another 70 years after the unfortunate death of its holder. Should the work originate from an anonymous or pseudonymous source, copyright protection either lasts about 95 years from the time it’s been published, or 120 years from its creation date. Whichever one happens to come first.

Copyright, in essence, effectively protects several types of work; Books, novels, technical reports and/or manuals, artistic expressions such as sculptures, paintings, images, photographs, music in general, songs, dramatic works pertaining to film, television and radio broadcasts, as well as engineering and technical plans, promotional or advertorial literature, software and databases. However, copyright is not a one-size-fits-all measure, to fully understand what is copyright infringement, we’d have to consider the different types involved in any individual work; Take a film for example, the actual footage may be protected by its own form of copyright separate from the score, capture method and any relevant scripts or text, each one of those may have its own form of copyright as well, even the techniques used to make any of it come to life can have a separate and distinct copyright.

Patents, on the other hand, are a little bit different in their application; A patent is a property right with a somewhat limited duration that mostly pertains to an invention. Inventions are usually what they sound like, something some industrious folk physically, mechanically or overall scientifically create; Machines that make industry more efficient, chemical advancements or breakthroughs, a new form of manufacture or maybe even a toaster that cuts off the crusts for you (can you imagine?).

Patents are territorial rights according to UK patent law, meaning they only give the holder of a patent their respective rights in the UK and the rights to prevent others from bringing the patented products into the UK. In order for your invention (the Strawberry Synergiser 5000) to be eligible for a patent in the UK, it must be entirely new; As in never introduced to the public in any way, shape or form worldwide before the patent is filed. It would also have to be innovative in its own right; It must involve an actual element of inventiveness so as to avoid being likened to something that already exists (like the Scotch-O-Matic Egg Dispenser 4000). Finally, the invention must be capable of some sort of industrial application; Meaning it must be applicable in any sort of industry, taking an actively practical form of a device of any sort, a product or an industrial process.

Now trademarks are a little bit more interesting; a trademark is basically every brand name, slogan and/or logo that pretty much tells you where a product or a service comes from. As opposed to a service mark, which is, for all intents and purposes (not intensive purposes), the same thing with the exception being that it pertains to the source of the products and/or services rather than the goods themselves. Though the two are distinctly different, they’re often used interchangeably to refer to each other. Now, unlike both copyrights and patents, trademarks are don’t necessarily have to expire after whatever number of years; Trademark rights rely on actual application, so long as it’s in effective use, it stays where it is. Provided that the use of a trademark is commercial, mainly to indicate their source. Similarly, trademark registrations can last forever, given that you submit the proper paperwork and keep your fees payed on the regular. It’s worth pointing out that not all trademarks have to be registered. So long as you use a trademark in the context of commerce, it automatically comes under the protection of common law rights. But registration can offer you a nifty bunch of benefits; A public notice of the registrant’s ownership claim of the trademark, in addition to legal ownership presumption on a much wider scale, and the right to use the trademark in any way related to the products or services it’s linked to. You’ll know a trademark is registered if it has the little ® symbol stuck to it. But if it isn’t, you’re allowed to use both TM and SM for products and services respectively, signifying that you’ve made use of common law to garner your trademark.

Copyright Violation: What to Know

So, now that we have a clearer distinction between the various types of protection one’s properties can have, we can further delve into figuring out what is copyright infringement. We already know the basic definition, but the devil just so happens to be in the details. So to further answer what is copyright infringement, we’re going to have to dive deeper into what constitutes copyright violation.

Obtaining a copyright comes with a set of handy dandy rights. First and foremost, it grants you the exclusive right to reproduce the protected work. Secondly, the right to base future works off the copyright work. Thirdly, the exclusive (and appealing) right to distribute your works to the masses, either via sale or other methods. Fourthly, the right to enact or perform the work in public. And finally (or fifthly but that just sounds weird), The right to display it in public.

To try and comprehend what is copyright infringement, we’ll try and simplify the many odd facets of UK copyright law according to the “Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988” (have yourself a fun read with that one). According to the act, copyright infringements may take place pretty easily, leaving you to potentially face legal action without much prior notice, so here are a few simple examples to put things into perspective:

  • Any form of public or private presentation that includes copyright video without any acknowledgement or permission with regards to the originator counts as a violation.
  • Music played on any website or on a video (like that “sick” montage of your call of duty kill streaks) without proper licensing or permission from the copyright holder(s) is a pretty common violation.
  • Any business, let’s say an online magazine, that uses artwork, graphics or content without the explicit permission of the owner of said works is also a common violation.

These are just a few examples, there are many more situations where a copyright infringement may occur, and before you go down the erroneous path of thinking that copyright infringement is basically using an exact copy of the work, whatever it may be, you’d better think again; A work doesn’t have to be identical to be considered infringing, it can also just bear apt similarity and still count as copyright violation, in addition to the fact that quantity of work infringed and quality both count.

Avoiding It All

You’ll be pleased to know that not every use of copyright material is considered infringement (lucky us); In accordance with UK copyright law, some forms of using copyright material falls under the kind umbrella of “fair dealing,” so to further our understanding of what is copyright infringement, we’d have to define what fair dealing means; Though there’s no statutory definition of fair dealing, it is generally legal terminology used to tell whether or not use of any copyright material is lawful or infringing, the way it is approached is a bit simplistic however, bringing into question how a fair and lawful individual would have dealt with the work.

Under UK law, use of copyright material is permitted under six main fair dealing scenarios:

  • For the purposes of private study and/or exploration.
  • For the purposes of examination or instruction.
  • For the purposes of critique and/or quotation.
  • For the purposes of reporting actual news events.
  • For the purposes of parody and/or caricature.
  • For the purposes of text and/or data mining.

Sounds simple enough, right? (Just nod.) In any case, the Copyright Licensing Agency Limited (CLA) is the sole licensing body as defined b the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and it urges those interested in steering clear of copyright infringement to follow a few simple steps to keep out of the watchful eye of UK law:

  • Making sure to obtain the express permission necessary to copy protected material by purchasing the appropriate CLA licence, allowing you to meet the suitable demands of those that make daily use of copyright material and for copying extracts. If for whatever reason you can’t seem to obtain a CLA licence, you have to directly communicate witht he holder of the copyright for clearance every time you need to make use of their work for any purpose and see to any relevant fees.
  • Make sure to check with and adhere to specific terms of use relevant to any direct subscriptions oor purchased documents supplied directly, this includes any online formats.
  • If you’re fixing to use content that’s been published online, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for any copyright icons titled “What can I do with this content?” The way this is set up is to let the general public (and private sectors as well) know what publishers want done (and not done) with their copyright material,
  • Make an effort to create internal policies that best describe to all viable employees how to utilise copyright protected materials, which helps substantially reduce the risk of copyright violation.

So in essence, don’t take people’s stuff without proper permission and adequate (and boring) paperwork. It’s extremely easy to ignore all the red tape but it’s not as easy trying to ignore the wrath that ensues afterwards given enough time and complaints.

Wrapping it all Up

By now (through some miracle), you should have a much clearer idea of what is copyright infringement, especially if you happen to find yourself in the UK side of things. With the advent of media, the Internet and people’s access to all sorts of information, the law struggles to keep up and figure out proper channels to give everyone their just dues, but they’ll still try anyway and it does nobody any good to try and skirt the law. So, be smart, source your stuff, ask nicely and take responsibility.

Think we missed something? Got anything to add of your own? Perhaps you’d like to tell us how your day’s going? Drop us your thoughts in the comments section below and we’ll listen attentively.

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