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Copyright Laws - It's OK to Copy Isn't It?

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You have been tasked with writing an article for your company’s website. How difficult can it be? Someone must have written something similar in the past and surely there will be lots of material on the net so you can “borrow” a bit here, a bit there and change the words around. Easy isn’t it? Exercise caution is the reply.

Copyright law protects original artistic, musical, dramatic and literary works, including computer programs. It arises automatically on the creation of the work and lasts for 70 years after the death of the author save for sound recordings and broadcasts which are protected for 70 and 50 years from the date of publication and making respectively. Copyright protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. There is no need to register copyright once it has arisen.

Fine you think, surely that means I can still “borrow” or use a bit on someone’s work?

The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) permits various acts to be carried out in relation to copyright works notwithstanding the subsistence of copyright, many of which apply in very specific circumstances.

CPDA permits “fair dealing” defences to be raised where infringing acts would be committed with certain types of copyright work for the purposes of research and private study, criticism and review, reporting current events, quotation or parody (subject to certain requirements being satisfied). The making of temporary copies is also permitted in certain circumstances.

Whether a fair dealing defence is accepted will depend on an assessment based on various principles set out in case law. However, what will be taken into account by the courts is the extent and use of the permitted act in issue.

There are other defences which may be raised for example, the copyright no longer subsists in the copyright work or the individual concerned does not own the copyright work.

The moral of the story is that unless you seek permission from the author of the copyright works you run the risk that you are infringing someone’s work . . . . but they may have “borrowed” it from someone else anyway . . . .