- Please remember to consult an attorney. This should not be considered legal advice.
The United Kingdom is often considered to be the birthplace of the modern system of copyright law, having originated with the Statute of Anne in the year 1710. Of course, this was long before online piracy and blogs became an issue in the copyright conflict. The Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1998 came into force in the United Kingdom on the 1st of August, 1989, though some smaller provisions would not come into full effect until 1990 or 1991. Since that time, several amendments have been passed, changing the original statute considerably. Some directives from the European Union have also effected the law.
Of course, all of these laws were crafted before there even was an Internet. Amendments have been made, naturally, to meet the needs of Internet users who want their intellectual property protected from online piracy. If the work is computer generated, the individual who made the arrangements necessary for the creation of that work owns the copyright.
In the United Kingdom, one cannot make use of copyrighted material without explicit permission to do so. This means one cannot even use large portions of excerpted material without the permission of the creator or author of the work. There are very limited exceptions to this rule. In the United States, there is a policy known as “Fair Use”. In the United Kingdom, “Fair dealing”, is the corresponding law which permits parties to use copyrighted materials under very limited circumstances. However, fair dealing is a much more restrictive clause than Fair Use is in the United States. In either case, sufficient acknowledgment must be given to the author or creator of the work. Without this, you will be committing theft or pirating of copyrighted material.
There was a period of time in the United Kingdom when even Internet cache services were not fully legal under the law. This is because the copies of websites and blog posts and the like were infringing copies which were not covered under Fair Dealing policy. An amendment was passed, though, which allowed temporary copies of websites or literary works to be transmitted for non-commercial purposes.
Individuals in the United Kingdom are often curious as to whether they need to register their materials with some agency or use the © symbol in order to have their materials protected. The answer, quite simply, is no. United Kingdom copyright law says that upon creation, the work is automatically copyrighted. No need to register the work with any government agency or association, no need to include various symbols in the title, and no need to pay money for the rights to works you created yourself.
So what qualifies as online copyright infringement under the United Kingdom’s restrictive copyright laws? Probably the most obvious example would be if someone copied a website, line for line, making it look identical to the original, and then simply changed the contact information. This is sometimes done in order to divert traffic to another business or to commit financial fraud. People often forget that their online actions have consequences. For many people, it seems like online interaction is not “real”, but when you break a law online—it certainly counts in the real world too. Individuals are able to sit within the safety of their home and tell themselves that if they post someone else’s work, in full, on their website it will have no consequences, but they will be in for a rude awakening. While there is a big debate still raging over online copyrights, no one is out there suggesting that intellectual property should simply be ignored, but there is a fine line between protection of intellectual property and strangling the culture of the Internet through heavy-handed censorship.
There are some obvious issues that people are very upset with regarding United Kingdom online copyright law. For example, a video can be pulled off of the web because of a song playing in the background. If the video depicts a boy passing out at his birthday party, but the background music is the song, “Happy Birthday”, which is copyrighted, then the video can be pulled under the auspices of protecting intellectual property. Under current United Kingdom online copyright laws, even clever parody videos or songs which are posted online can quickly be yanked from the Internet. If you think that is hyperbole—just look to recent history: a viral video called Newport State of Mind was created and posted on Youtube, but then had to be taken down due to the objections of the owners of the copyright on the original song, Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. In the United Kingdom it is still even illegal to rip a song from a physical CD to your computer, or a digital musical device like an iPod or MP3 player. This is the height of absurdity, as this does nothing to protect intellectual property—it is simply a nonsense law that is an incredible nuisance.
Online copyright laws are mostly ignored by the public, of course, as the authorities do not have the ability to track down and fine or imprison every person who rips songs from a CD or videotapes their kid’s birthday party. Those individuals who are found guilty of online copyright abuses are going to find it’s increasingly more difficult to ignore the law regarding file sharing or copyright infringement online. Why? The Digital Economy Act 2010 authorized a system to be put in place in which internet service providers can send warnings to users suspected of illegally pirating movies, music, or literature. After enough warnings, the internet service provider can actually suspect the individuals’ access to the Internet.
The key for the future of online copyright law in the United Kingdom will be to maintain law and order regarding the protection of intellectual property, while not taking a heavy-handed approach to the situation which will result in censorship and extra-judicial punishment.
Intellectual Property Office (IPO) UK – The official government body responsible for intellectual property rights including copyrights in the UK.
British Copyright Council – Provides detailed guidance on copyright issues in the UK.
Legislation.gov.uk – For the full text of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which is the cornerstone of copyright law in the UK.
The UK Copyright Hub – Aims to facilitate understanding and management of copyright.