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Has someone stolen your website content from abroad? What can you do?

by  David Dwyer on  25/08/2017

An overview of UK copyright legislation

Staying on the right side of copyright law in the UK

So what happens if someone in another country copies your website, or plagiarises its content? You still have recourse through international copyright law, which is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO).

As has been discussed in our previous article exploring U.S. copyright legislation, international copyright law remains misunderstood by many.

Copyright is one of four UK intellectual property rights including patents, designs, and trademarks. However, unlike patents and trademarks in the UK, copyright is an automatic intellectual property right, protecting everything from writing and literary works, art and photography through to films, television broadcasts, music, an electronic database and audio recordings. For copyright protection to apply, it has to have 'originated' with the author and there must have been some skill, labour or judgment in the creation of the work, and it must be original.

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, a copyright owner has moral and economic rights to their work. The moral rights are centred around their right to be identified as the author of the work. The author’s economic rights include the right to copy, distribute, adapt or broadcast their work.

Copyright not only gives the owner/author control over their work but also how it is used, providing protection against the commercial exploitation and editing of their work without permission. Owners of copyright can use, sell or licence a work to a third party.

How long does Copyright last?

In the UK, copyright protection for published works can last up to 70 years after the author’s death however, this varies depending on the type of work and whether it is published or unpublished. After copyright expires, the work is in the public domain.

  • In the case of written drama or music, copyright is retained for 70 years after the author’s death.
  • Sound and music recordings are covered for 70 years after first publication
  • Films are protected for 70 years after the death of the Director, Screenplay author and Composer.
  • Broadcasts are protected for 50 years from the date of first broadcast.
  • Layouts of published written, dramatic or musical material are protected for 25 years since their date of publication.

International copyright law

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) deals with the international protection of works and rights of content authors. Three principles underpin its cross-border agreement:

 (a) Works originating in one of the Contracting States (that is, works the author of which is a national of such a State or works first published in such a State) must be given the same protection in each of the other Contracting States as the latter grants to the works of its own nationals (principle of "national treatment").

(b) Protection must not be conditional upon compliance with any formality (principle of "automatic" protection).

(c) Protection is independent of the existence of protection in the country of origin of the work (principle of "independence" of protection). If, however, a Contracting State provides for a longer term of protection than the minimum prescribed by the Convention and the work ceases to be protected in the country of origin, protection may be denied once protection in the country of origin ceases.

Don’t think that something is safe to copy if you don’t see the ©symbol. Copyright exists automatically, and legal protection doesn’t require registration with any central authority.  So, if you copy something and later get challenged, the absence of a copyright symbol is no defence. The benefit of using the symbol, for example on your own website, is that others can easily identify you as the person to contact if they want to reproduce a photograph or a piece of content. Then it is up to you to decide if you want to approve that reproduction, and what fee – if any – you’ll set. Often, if the copyright holder is acknowledged, and the use is not for profit, then no fee is charged. But that is the choice of the copyright holder. There is no rate fixed by any ombudsman, court or external authority.

So, if you want to reproduce a photograph, illustration or rich media, try to identify who holds Copyright (through meta data or the content source) and request permission. Those who don’t, risk receiving an email or legal letter claiming damages. 

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