Copyright and trademarks fall into the field of intellectual property.
Copyright protects written, theatrical, musical and artistic works. It exists automatically, but in order to defend your right to it, you may have to provide evidence.
Prevention is always better than cure, so marking your work with a statement that it is protected by copyright will help to deter infringement. You may want to register your copyright with a specialist in copyright registration. Keeping supporting evidence of your work, such as examples of how the work developed and progressed, will help you prove ownership.
Copyright usually lasts for the life of the creator plus seventy years. If the work has been broadcast, then copyright lasts for fifty years from the year of making the broadcast.
Trademarks are symbols or logos that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace. They tell the consumer that the goods or services come from a single source. You do not need to register your trademark in order to protect it from infringement, but it helps.
Taking legal action to protect an unregistered trademark can be expensive and difficult. Registering a trademark, on the other hand, not only deters others from using it but also makes it easier to defend your legal rights.
Copyright is infringed where a substantial part of it (or the whole of it) is used without the owner’s permission.
The cheapest solution is to try to resolve the dispute privately with the person or organisation which has used your copyright. You may want to seek legal advice from an intellectual property lawyer on the best way to go about this, and on what compensation to request. A stroppy lawyer’s letter may be enough to stop the culprit abusing your work.
Mediation (an informal method of resolving disputes using a neutral third party mediator) is another useful way to resolve disputes over copyright. The mediator will help you seek common ground and find a solution. If the dispute ends up in court, the judge is likely to look favourably on the fact you sought to resolve the dispute through mediation.
Certain organisations such as the Performing Rights Society (for musical work - www.prsformusic.com) or the Design and Artists Copyright Society (for artistic work - www.dacs.org.uk) may be able to advise you on where you stand legally, which should provide authoritative clarification. This could encourage the infringer to back down.
Ultimately, you may need to go to court.
The court could grant an injunction (this is a court order stopping someone from doing something) preventing further exploitation of your work, and award the owner damages for infringement.
If the breach of copyright is very serious, it may amount to the criminal offence of piracy.
A crime is committed where the breach is intentional, on a large scale and for commercial reasons. An example would be where your work is being copied and sold on the internet, without your consent.
If this is the case, then you should contact the police or your local Trading Standards Department, who will be able to advise you on the chances of bringing a prosecution. The chances of this will greatly increase if you can provide evidence of the breach.
If you have registered your trademark with the Intellectual Property Office, or with another registering body outside of the UK, then you can use the ® or the RTM symbol, to show that it is registered. It is a criminal offence to use these symbols if your trademark is not registered.
If your trademark is not registered, then you can use the TM symbol to show that it is being used as a trademark. However, this mark carries no legal weight.
Disputes can be resolved by amicable settlement, or by going to mediation. This is strongly encouraged by the courts, and legal action should be seen as a last resort. The courts may even penalise parties when the costs of the case are being decided, if they go to court without trying mediation first. It is nearly always cheaper and quicker to resolve trademark disputes out of court.
The crime of counterfeiting is committed where someone deliberately uses your registered trade mark without your consent. A solicitor or trade mark attorney will be able to advise you on the best legal route to take. The police or the Trading Standards Authority may be able to bring a prosecution.
If the trademark is not registered, then you can bring a legal action using the common law action of ‘passing off’. This can be a difficult action to bring. You must prove the trademark is yours, that you have built up a reputation under the trademark, and that you have been harmed by the other person’s use of the trademark.
More information is available from the Intellectual Property Office at www.ipo.gov.uk.
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