Do you know what to do about copyright infringement?

Intellectual property law can be confusing. Whenever you have complex rules, laws, and regulations about ideas and innovation, there’s bound to be a few headaches. 

Most people don’t know much about it, much less about what to do when they have to deal with a case of copyright infringement. 

To help you make sense of it all, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about copyright infringement and how to deal with it, including:

  • What is copyright infringement?
  • What is protected under the copyright, designs, and patents act?
  • How do I avoid copyright infringement?
  • What happens if I’m accused of copyright infringement?
  • What if someone tries to use my intellectual property?

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is the legal term used when somebody uses your intellectual property (IP) without permission. It applies when the whole IP, or a substantial part of it, is used. 

Courts generally interpret a “substantial part” as anything that is significant to the design.  

Intellectual property is any kind of original creation. It can refer to designs, inventions, brand names, slogans, and literary work. 

Original ideas don’t count as intellectual property on their own. Instead, it’s something you create as a result of the original idea, like an invention, brand name, or design. 

To prevent intellectual property from being stolen or used without permission, it’s protected under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

What is protected under the copyright, designs, and patents act?

As a creator, you have the right to control the way your IP is used. Others can use the same idea, but the actual content you produce can’t be copied. 

If you create something unique for a company, then the company usually owns the rights to the IP. If you work freelance, you usually own the rights to original work unless your contract says otherwise.

The act protects works like these::

  • Literary work – Song lyrics, manuscripts, manuals, computer programs, commercial documents, leaflets, newsletters and articles etc.
  • Dramatic work – Plays, dance, etc.
  • Musical work – Recordings and musical score.
  • Artistic work – Photographs, paintings, architecture, technical drawings/diagrams, maps, logos, etc.
  • Specific arrangements of published work – Magazines, periodicals, etc.
  • Sound recordings – recordings of works, e.g. musical and literary.
  • Films – Broadcasts and cable programmes.

Other kinds of intellectual properties like slogans, logos, and inventions aren’t automatically protected. So you need to register them with HMRC as registered designs, trademarks, or patents. 

How do I avoid copyright infringement?

You can register your intellectual property through HMRC. You might need to register different parts of your product in different ways, as part of the product development process

For example, if you invent a completely new product::

  • The name or logo will need to be registered as a trademark.
  • The appearance will need to be registered as a design. 
  • The technology itself will need to be registered as a patent.
  • The images or text around the product will be protected from copyright infringement. 

Copyright

Everything we’ve mentioned in the previous section is covered automatically against theft. As long as there’s a record of you doing it first, nobody else is allowed to claim it as their own. To be safe, a lot of creators mark their work with a copyright symbol, a name, and a creation date. 

Web pages and unique images are automatically covered. It’s important to remember this goes both ways, so be careful when using images or content you find on the internet. 

Trademarks

You can apply to register a trademark to protect specific words (like company name), images, and slogans. It has to be unique, so you should make sure it’s not already being used. You can search for registered trademarks on the HMRC website. 

Trademarks can’t be vague or misleading, and can’t be a direct copy of the thing it’s selling. For example, you can’t register a new kind of software as “software”. 

Registering a trademark usually takes about 4 months and costs £200, and it will last for 10 years. 

Registered designs

You can register an original design through HMRC. The “design” includes its appearance, shape, decoration, or how its put together. 

You should check it’s an original design through HMRC first, then it’ll cost £50 per design. 

Patents

Patents protect new inventions and how they work. You’ll only be granted a patent if your invention is new; not just a slightly different version of something that already exists. 

Applying for a patent through HMRC is an 8 step process that costs about £4,000 and usually takes around 5 years. 

Again, you should check if a similar patent already exists on the HMRC website.

What happens if I’m accused of copyright infringement?

Your use of a particular IP could be opposed if a similar one already exists.

If you’re aware of something similar before you try to register your IP, you can ask the holder of the original IP for a letter of consent and include it when trying to register your own IP. 

Without the letter of consent, the intellectual property office (IPO) will contact the original trademark holder to let them know. 

If your application is opposed, you can either withdraw your application or defend it. You might have to pay legal costs if you want to challenge the opposition, and you can’t register your IP until it’s settled.

It’s worth knowing that large scale copyright infringement (if you make a lot of money from it) can be seen as a criminal offence.

What if someone tries to use my intellectual property?

Because copyright is a private right, it’s up to you to take action if someone commits copyright infringement on your intellectual property. You’ll be notified when it happens. 

If it does, there are a few routes you can take. In any case, you should have hard proof that the intellectual property is yours. 

The easiest solution is to settle the matter between you and the other party. For example, you might decide to loan them the IP rights at a fair price, ask them to stop using it or change their design. 

You can do this on your own or through mediation. 

If you choose mediation, the intellectual property office (IPO) will appoint an official mediator to help both sides come to an agreement. 

If you can’t settle the matter between yourselves, the next step is to take the issue to court. If you do, the court can:

  • Stop someone from using the intellectual property with an injunction.
  • Award the copyright owner compensation. 
  • Make the infringing party give up the goods to the copyright owner.

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