Category Archives: copyright

What is Copyright?

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Copyright is a wide-ranging subject, and relevant to many creative and non-creative industries.  It is arguably the most universal of IP rights, covering written materials, music, art, logos, and computer programs, to name a few.  It protects most visual brand elements, such as logos, packaging and websites, though it may also be possible to register some of these as designs or trademarks to secure added protection.

Copyright protects original expression, but not ideas themselves.  So, if someone were to suggest you draw a picture of a bird, or gave you an idea for a plot, you would own copyright in the picture or plot you produce, as long as you don’t copy the words or image from someone else.  The person who suggested drawing a bird, or whose idea it was that you write a love story would not have copyright in your work.

Can I copyright my name?

Some people ask to “copyright” their name.  Surfers wonder whether copyright prevents them from using particular words for their product or business.  Even newspapers and popular online publications make the basic mistake sometimes of reporting names as being copyrightable.  In fact names are not protected by the law of copyright.  It is trademarks that protect names.

It was in a case in 1982 Exxon Corp, where it was decided that copyright does not protect names.  The company unsuccessfully applied to stop Exxon Insurance Consultants calling themselves Exxon, arguing that it had copyright in the name as it had spent substantial amounts of money developing the name.  In a landmark decision, the UK Court of Appeal disagreed and took the view that it was not possible to have copyright in a name, because a name is too brief.  Regardless of how much investment or time is put into the creation of a name, no matter how clever it is, from a policy point of view the court decided to keep names outside the scope of copyright protection.  Instead, names are protected by the law of trademarks.  Some famous examples of slogans which are also protected by trademarks are Nike’s Just Do It, and L’Oreal’s Because you’re worth it.

What does this mean for you?  Well, for names and slogans you need to turn to a trademark expert for help.  While for other works, such as those outlined at the start of this blog, generally all you need to do to own your work is to record it in some way (for example by writing it down, taking a photograph, or getting it on tape).  If you ask someone else to do work for you, for example to develop a website, then you need a contract before you engage them, to give you the copyright, otherwise they will own the rights in the site.

To secure exclusive rights to the name of your business or product, it’s important to get an expert in trademark law to evaluate whether the name is legally effective and available.  If it is, then registering it as a trademark is a sensible step to take so you can own the rights to the name you are generating goodwill in. So, when you come up with a name you like, remember that there are steps you need to take to own it.  Why not drop us a line to discuss trademark registration?

Protecting the Shire: Fry and McKellen step in to save the Hobbit

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Some may see it as unwarranted bullying, while others say it is to be expected.  Either way, the publicity arising from recent allegations of IP infringement have certainly thrown The Hobbit pub in Southampton firmly into the limelight.  The Saul Zaentz Company, owners of rights to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings brands, among other JTT Tolkien work, have taken action against small business owners in the past, such as in November of last year where their lawyers argued that the Hungry Hobbit cafe took unfair advantage of the Hobbit trade mark.

While the cafe is reportedly considering a change of name, the pub, which sells Frodo and Gandalf cocktails, has received overwhelming support not only from the online commuity, but from actors involved in the upcoming Hobbit film. A Facebook campaign has rallied the support of 60,000 Facebook users (Save the Hobbit, Southampton), and actors Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen have even agreed to pay licence fees on behalf of the pub to settle the dispute.

When issues like this capture the imagination of the public, the results can be surprising, I’m sure that SZC were not expecting such a backlash.  More so than any marketing or education by businesses in the field, these disputes serve to increase public awareness of IP issues crucial to businesses worldwide.  Taking advantage of the public interest, a group of Tolkien enthusiasts have now also begun a campaign against exclusive rights in the word Shire, encouraging visitors to their website to proudly showcase a Save the Shire poster.  It will be interesting to see how much momentum they are able to generate.

Apple sues Samsung for copyright infringement

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Apple is suing Samsung for allegedly copying its iPhone and iPad devices in its products, specifically Samsung’s Galaxy range. The lawsuit was filed
last Friday, April 15, and claims Samsung has infringed Apple’s copyright and patents. Apple consider that Samsung has copied the ‘look and feel’ of both its iPad and iPhone.

Samsung fight back

However, Samsung is fighting back and claiming on the ground that its products are the result of extensive internal research and development. In its statement the company said: ‘Samsung’s development of core technologies and strengthening our intellectual property portfolio are keys to our continued success’. Samsung intends to actively fight the lawsuits ‘through appropriate legal measures to protect our intellectual property’.

Apple’s complaint

By comparing iPhone 3GS and the Samsung Galaxy 4G the similarities in appearance and style is noticeable. The Apple spokeswoman Kristen Huguet said: ‘This kind of blatant copying is wrong and we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.’

Apple’s complaint claims that ‘rather than innovate and develop its own technology and a unique Samsung style for its smart phone products and computer tablets, Samsung chose to copy Apple’s technology, user interface and innovative style in these infringing products’.

This lawsuit could have a significant impact on the relationship of the two companies. Samsung currently supplies Apple with microchips used in Apple’s products and also memory chips which are used in Macbook Pro computers. According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung gets £3.7 billion in 2010 from Apple, therefore making up a significant amount of Samsung’s revenue. However, Samsung has now become a competitor to Apple. Samsung’s Galaxy range uses Google’s android system, which competes directly with Apple’s own mobile software.

Apple’s other lawsuits

It is not only Samsung that Apple is issuing lawsuits against. Apple is currently involved in lawsuits against both HTC and Nokia where Apple is fighting for HTC Smartphone and some Nokia devices to be banned from import into the US. Apple claims this is because both companies are infringing its patents. However, Apple is struggling in both these lawsuits after the ITC suggested both cases should be dropped. The outcome of the cases will not be known until June this year. Currently Android’s market share has been growing. The BBC reports a 58% growth in the Smartphone market, with Android counting for 39% of this growth. Analyst John Park states that Apple’s suits against Android phones ‘is more like a symbolic move by Apple that it is quite serious about rivals advancing, and is trying to hold back close competitors’

In Tim Webber’s analysis on the BBC website about this case, he claims that for mobile phone companies, being sued for copyright infringement can be seen as a ‘badge of honour’ as it shows that their products are considered a threat. Currently Samsung is the only real threat to Apple in the tablet area, so Apple’s allegations against the company may be seen as an acknowledgement of that threat and trying to eliminate it.