Intellectual property rights
All original work is protected by copyright whether it is an artwork, a video, a piece of music, a dramatic work, written or broadcast on TV or radio.
Copyright is in effect from the moment the creator makes the work until 70 years after they die at which time the copyright will pass on to their estate. It is therefore illegal to use or recreate an original work without the express permission of the owner.
You do not have to register for copyright, it is automatic and thus any breach of a copyright can be enforced by the courts.
If your copyright is breached
To begin with, you should carefully consider whether your copyright has actually been infringed. In the UK copyright law states that it is legal for copyrighted work to feature ‘incidentally’ in other works as long as the copyrighted piece is not the main focus. This for example would be the case if your work featured in the background of a TV programme or was sighted in a public setting.
Other reasons why copyright may not be infringed can be found below.
If you still believe that your work has been used without the correct permission or exemption then it is up to you to enforce the copyright through legal action. Going to court is an extremely expensive process and in copyright cases, it can be very hard to assess a breach. It is important that you consider the financial implications of going ahead on such a case.
Finally it is also important to note that copyright does not cover ideas, only what they become after they are created, thus if someone steals your idea, you have no legal protection.
Using copyrighted material without permission
There are a couple of minor exemptions which can allow you to use a copyrighted piece without permission. The first exemption is ‘fair dealing’ which means that you can use the protected work for non-commercial or research purposes. In these cases, the original work must be acknowledged appropriately for example referencing a book for an essay. Fair dealing also covers reviews of the piece.
The second exemption is the ‘substantial part’ which means that copyrighted works can be used as long as the copyrighted piece is not the main focus of the new piece. It is important to note that ‘substantial part’ does not refer to how much of the copyrighted piece is used, but instead as to context and importance of the copyrighted piece to the new work. There is not a legally defined limit as to what is ‘substantial’ and thus it can be hard to assess how much of a piece can be used without infringing on the copyright.
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