Copyright protection and litigation against infringement

In the UK, copyright is primarily governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). A variety of works qualify for copyright protection under the CDPA, although no formalities have to be observed for works to receive copyright protection in this country.

To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original. An original work is one that 'originates' in its expression from the author - the work must be independently created and not copied from another's work or from matter in the public domain.

Copyright aims to protect the form of expression of ideas and not the ideas themselves, although these may be protected by confidentiality. It does not protect against independent development of the same ideas, only against the actual copying of another's work.

Under UK copyright law, the following types of works are protected:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works.
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions.
  • Sound recordings, films or broadcasts.

The main purpose of copyright is to reward the labour, skill, time, ingenuity, selection or mental effort involved with creating original works, that is works where the author has expended independent effort to create the works.

Copyright owners such as authors are automatically given two sets of exclusive rights over their work - economic and moral rights.

With economic rights, the emphasis is on preventing others from unfairly benefiting or taking advantage of the original work created by the copyright owner. These rights provide authors with an ability to control the economic use of their works in various ways and to receive payment. These include licensing others to carry out the following acts with the works:

  • Copy the work.
  • Rent or lend to the public.
  • Issue copies to the public.
  • Communicate to the public.
  • Perform, play or show in public.
  • Make translations or adaptations to the work, or do any of the above in relation to translations or adaptations.
  • Make works available on the Internet for on-demand access by the public.
  • Receive a percentage of the sale price if a work is resold.

Although a copyright owner's rights are exclusive, they are limited in time, most often to the life of the author plus 70 years from death.

Copyright owners also have moral rights that help protect their reputation and integrity. These include the right to be identified as the author or director and to object to derogatory treatment of their works.

Enforcing copyright

In most countries a copyright owner may pursue various remedies against infringers, including seeking damages, injunctions to stop continued infringement and orders to "deliver up" goods that infringe copyright.

When taking legal action against infringers, it is very important to identify clearly what type of infringement has occurred - several claims may be possible covering various intellectual property rights such as trade marks and design rights as well as copyright.

As copyright is seen as a private right, the onus is on the owner to pursue enforcement of their rights. Failing to do so can result in rights being compromised.

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