What is copyright infringement


5th May 2021

If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, that your work has been used without permission, there is something you can do about it, which we cover in this article.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright is a right that (in the UK at least) arises automatically when an original literary, musical or artistic work is created. It provides the owner with a number of exclusive rights that, broadly at least, allow the owner to prevent the work being copied or otherwise dealt with without permission.

Infringing copyright can be a serious issue or a more minor one, depending on the circumstances, but if you have spent time, and effort, creating a work then you will no doubt want to protect it.

Examples of infringed copyright:

  • Photographs used on a website or business newsletter/email without permission or licence
  • A presentation including images or video without permission or licence
  • Music played on a website without the right permission or licence
  • Copying articles without permission or licence

What you need to do

The starting point is to establish that you own the copyright. You could assume that the person who creates the piece of work owns the copyright. However, that might not necessarily be the case if there is an employee/employer relationship. If you have created the work in the course of your employment then the presumption is that it is the employer’s copyright. For example, copyright on this blog would belong to Blake Morgan.

It may be that you have created the work as part of a consultancy arrangement. In which case there may be terms moving the rights to the principal. You need to ask, have the rights moved around?

If you can satisfy that you own the rights and the date they have been created then it is about providing evidence that the other party is using them and that the use constitutes an infringement. That might be screenshots of their website to show the photo on the website.

Infringed copyright checklist:

  • Do you own the copyright?
  • Are they using it?
  • Where are they using it?
  • Have you granted them a licence? Check the licence chain, e.g., are you a photographer and licenced the work to Shutterstock who then licence the work out to lots of other people?
  • Figure out what the appropriate licence fee will be. There are guideline rates for journalists and photographers.
  • Send a cease and desist letter.

How can Blake Morgan help?

Understanding the steps and proving you own the copyright is crucial. If you can do that and it is a low value matter, you can send a cease and desist letter yourself. If this is something that is happening repeatedly, we can assist with drafting a template letter to use multiple times.

It is best to seek legal advice for a high value infringement of your copyright e.g. if your creative work is worth a lot, or perhaps a photograph that you own copyright for has been used to sell millions of t-shirts.

We also cover what to do if you receive a cease and desist letter here.

If you need legal advice on copyright or think your copyright has been infringed, contact our intellectual property experts.

This article is part of Private Client Issues – May 2021

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