There are numerous legal issues surrounding copyright, some that are more obvious than others. In recent times there has been some controversy around this due to debates around what constitutes fair use. In this article we will look at copyright and what you need to be aware of.

What is fair use?

Essentially fair use means you can use copyrighted material without the permission of the owner provided:

• You are using it to comment on the work itself
• You are using it for the purposes of criticism
• You are using it for the purposes of a parody

Essentially, what this means is that you could use some clips from a TV show or movie in a review or use a clip from the same TV show or movie in order to make a satirical point. How much of the clips you can use and how you can use them is a topic for debate and different countries have different interpretations on this.

When it comes to copying work for study or other purposes there are clear rules – books are limited to one chapter or 5%, only one article from a journal, a single paper or 5% from a conference or one short story/poem from an anthology.

UK Copyright Law

Copyright in the UK is governed under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Essentially it means a copyright holder owns their work for 70 years (or 50 if it was computer generated). A good example of this is that if you own a bar and want to play music then you need a license in order to do so.

One exception to this rule is with Peter Pan – the royalties are granted indefinitely to Great Ormond Street hospital (although this does not mean they have full intellectual rights over the Peter Pan property).

This can be complicated by certain aspects of copyright – for example, the Wizard of Oz prequel Oz The Great And Powerful may have been adapted from Frank L Baum’s Oz series of books but the production company was still prevented from referencing the MGM Wizard Of Oz film.

How to copyright your work

• Make sure any work is clearly marked, indicating who has the right to the work and any permissions required.
• Register your work with a recognised copyright registration service
• Keep evidence – for example, clearly showing that you developed scripts, sketches and arcs for a book, comic, TV show or feature film
• Use watermarks on your work as this will provide identification
• If you work with someone on a project make sure you draft an agreement clearly indicating who owns the rights to the character (one famous example was the writer/producer Stan Lee’s disagreement with the artist Jack Kirby over who had the original ideas over Spider-Man’s design.)

Still not sure?

If you are concerned about whether or not your work is copyrighted, if you have been involved in an unfair copyright claim or any other related issue let us know. We have a team of specialist legal representatives who can help you. Contact us today and we will be happy to discuss this in more detail.