Your Idea or Copyright Theft?

Ana Kocmut-Saunders

“La propriété, c’est le vol!” (All Property is theft!).  So said French anarchist and capitalist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1840.  Proudhon was not actually criticising individual entitlement to privately owned land. He was attacking landowners and capitalists whom he believed “stole” profits from labourers.

When modern day capitalists start up their own business they can quickly, easily and unwittingly ‘steal’ other peoples’ property.  How?  By using or adopting patented inventions or processes, trademarked logos or copyrighted material in their own business offerings or marketing.

Patents and Trademarks are easier to check out to avoid falling foul of them.  You can do that by a simple search of the online registry for each.

Beware and do your due diligence to check it out however.

Big brand retailers and service providers can be very aggressive indeed in their pursuit of anyone allegedly breaching their trademarks

Click here for the the latest reported instance and potential salutary tale.

What about copyright though? 

If material is not patented or trademarked, how do you know that your song, marketing concept, literary feature, clothing design or advertising pitch hasn’t already been created and protected by someone else?

Gareth Thompson

If you create something isn’t it yours?  So what if it’s not?  Does it really matter and should you worry?  Potentially yes if it steps hard enough on a business rivals’ copyright protected toes.

Uber was recently sued by Waymo (Google) for allegedly stealing technical information about itsLiDAR self-driving car system.  Ed Sheeran was recently sued for £16m for ‘stealing’ notes from ‘Amazing’ sung by Matt Cardle in his top 20 hit ‘Photograph’.  Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully sued Robin Thicke and  Pharrell Williams for $7.4m for ‘stealing’ from Gaye’s music to create ‘Blurred Lines.

In the fashion world the number of fashion shops claiming damages from rivals for copycat  designs has increased dramatically.  All Saints attacked River Island for copying items from its men’s and women’s collections.  Jimmy Choo pursued Marks and Spencers on the same basis.  Top Shop was forced to pay an undisclosed sum to French design house Chloe for copying a dungaree *

Original ideas invariably borrow from old ones. Even Voltaire admitted that “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation” **.  So how is a fledging entrepreneur supposed to know when their own inspiration becomes appropriation?  What’s the difference between being legitimately creative and original and illegally copying someone else’s work?  When does an idea become copyright protected material anyway?

Copyright arises automatically when material is first created.  However it has to be recorded not just remain an idea in someone’s head.  Once it is recorded though, any copying or adaptation of it can amount to an infringement.  An example would be lifting or adapting content ‘word for word’ from a business rival‘s promotional material or website to promote your own business.  However creating your own work based on someone else’s similar idea would not be an infringement of their copyright.

If recorded material is in the ‘public domain’ then it can be freely used.  Material published on the internet may be freely accessible to anyone. Perhaps surprisingly, that does not mean it is in the public domain.  Recorded material is only in the public domain if its copyright protection has expired.  How long does that last?  In the UK and for mere mortals, it currently lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years but not always. In the case of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan copyright protection has, (rather like Peter), an indefinite life span.  In JM Barrie’s case that was achieved by a statutory amendment made especially for that purpose in 1987 before it expired.

Different countries have different copyright expiry periods.  In the USA for ‘applied art’ material it can be as (comparatively) short as 25 years.  In Mexico, it is 100 years after the death of the author.  Once it has expired you can freely use, copy and adapt it.  However think twice before incorporating ‘Singing in the Rain’ into the marketing materials for the launch of your new retail umbrella outlet or ‘That’s Life’ for your positive thinking consultancy.  The copyright in the song or lyrics composition may have expired. However the copyright in the recording itself is separately protected. That could make it a highly successful but potentially very expensive launch party.

If there is any doubt about whether material you intend to use is copyrighted, whether anything came of it might ultimately and actually depend on how commercially successful you were.  How do you protect yourself against copyright infringement anyway?

In short create don’t copy or adapt someone else’s material.  Literally start with a ‘blank page’ and just what’s in your head.  Also go online and see what else has been created and recorded.  A simple ‘Google’ or ‘Bing Search’ will be highly informative.  It might be depressing to discover that your unique idea sadly isn’t but far better to be safe than sorry.  If in doubt always acknowledge the author’s contribution.  Apply otherwise to the author for a licence, grit your teeth and pay them a license fee.

If you’re otherwise sure that you’ve created your own original material don’t keep it to yourself.  Cast modesty to the winds and make sure you record and publish it.  Go ahead, be inspired and creative. Feel free to stand on the shoulders of others.  Just avoid picking their intellectual pockets in the process.

* Rachel Shields, Independent

** Daliah Saper, business.com

If in doubt and for safety always ‘look before you leap’ by getting specialist IP advice first.  Consult Ana Kocmut-Saunders, a member of the rapidly expanding IP team at CJCH solicitors.  Ana specialises in intellectual property protection.

CJCH Solicitors Corporate (including IP law) team is lead by Gareth Thompson, supported by Ana Kocmut-Saunders, and offers a obligation free consultation contact for new matters – 029 2048 3181 or e-mail on commercial@cjch.co.uk

CJCH Solicitors to create 71 jobs in Cyber Security with backing from Welsh Government.

CJCH Solicitors have embarked on an ambitious journey to create a staggering 71 new jobs within the Anti-Piracy and Cyber Security speciality in Wales by year-end 2020.  We are proud to reiterate the announcement made by the Welsh Government, revealing their support of our new global IP Anti-Piracy Unit at our Cardiff head office.

CJCH has been at the heart of digital piracy and Intellectual Property compliance in Wales, with an international impact. In 2014, our Intellectual Property practice launched its internal Anti-Piracy and Compliance consultancy. Our team developed a customised solution for our international clients, to protect their work product and recover lost revenues from software infringements.

Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, said “IP piracy, which can range from copyright theft or infringement to counterfeit goods, is a growing global issue that can cause untold damage to businesses, to their protected and valued brands and the economy. ”

Infringements of this nature are a form of cyber crime which impacts business globally, depriving them of revenue and compromising their intellectual property rights. CJCH have tackled this issue head-on and cultivated a bespoke solution for companies suffering from this invasion.

The purpose of this partnership with the Welsh Government is to leverage our thought leadership and create a central hub for Anti-Piracy and Cyber Security in Wales. We intend to bring global best practice into Wales while developing local talent as well. Our 2020 goal, is to have established 71 new jobs in this field, as well as contribute to making the United Kingdom and global digital community a safer and more secure environment. We will be partnering with local businesses and academic institutions, such as Swansea University, to cultivate development and training programs to support this initiative, with specialist content aligned to business needs.

Stephen Clarke, the CJCH CEO, stated “The modern world of digital liberty and innovation offers greater access to information and narrows the global divide. Unfortunately, the digital economy brings with it a growing sophistication in criminal activity. Without proper defences, digital piracy exposes businesses to uncontrollable risk and vulnerability. Our solution enables us to partner with our clients to establish a proactive (protection) and reactive (recovery) governance model. Our goal is to share this experience with the community and grow the local capability in cyber security.”

As of 6 March 2017, CJCH Solicitors has been awarded a £432 000 grant from the Welsh Government to support our active project to establish this new entity. Our objective is to aggressively drive the development of Cyber Security and Anti-Piracy enforcement in collaboration with skills development and knowledge transfer. Making Wales, and the UK, a more secure and impenetrable digital landscape.

For more information and updates, email us at ip@cjch.co.uk or engage with us via Facebook, twitter or LinkedIn.