Copyright is relevant to more than authors, artists, musicians and other creative people. The commercial world relies on material which is protected by copyright. For example, on most days in most offices people are creating copyright protected material.
This overview of copyright in the business context helps your organisation:
By the way, Cleardocs has successfully protected its copyright several times — and received substantial amounts of money in compensation.Maddocks Intellectual Property Team
Copyright is a type of intellectual property which can be bought or sold just like any other property. The word "copyright" refers to a bundle of exclusive rights in certain works and materials.
These exclusive rights include the rights:
If anybody other than the copyright owner does any of these things without the consent of the copyright owner, then the other person has infringed the owner's copyright.
Copyright protects two broad groups of materials:
Because copyright is intangible, it is more easily "damaged" or lost etc. than tangible property. This could happen if a competitor obtained a valuable document, which it modified and used, without the organisation being aware this has occurred.
The result is that an organisation is unaware of the copyright material it owns. Worse still, an organisation may be unaware when someone else (perhaps an ex employee) starts using the organisation's copyright material.
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A person who infringes copyright can be liable to compensate the copyright owner for its loss, or to account to the owner for the profit they have made from the wrongful use of the material.
The rights covered by copyright are automatically created as soon as the relevant work is created. There is no registration system for copyright.
Copyright is owned independently of a physical item in which the right is embodied or reproduced. For example, if you buy a book (the physical item) you are not buying the copyright in the literary work. As the owner of the book, your rights do not extend beyond reading the book (or perhaps using it as a door stop.)
Although copyright arises automatically, it is a good idea to put a copyright notice on the important material that your business creates. This is usually in the form of a © with the year of creation and the name of the copyright owner. Although this is not strictly necessary for copyright protection to be obtained, it may:
Copyright is usually owned by the creator of the relevant work. Probably the most important exception to this is where material is created by an employee in the course of their employment. In that case, copyright will usually be owned by the employer. However, it is prudent to include a provision about copyright ownership in employment contracts of key employees.
Although a business will usually own copyright in material created by employees in the course of their employment, this is not the case if the material is created by independent consultants, even if the business has paid for the material which is being created.
So if the material is created by independent consultants, then it is absolutely crucial to obtain a formal assignment of copyright from the consultant to the organisation. Otherwise:
It is far easier to deal with this matter at the time a consultant is engaged, than after the engagement is completed and the consultant has been paid.
Even though digital material can be processed in an infinite variety of ways and can be reproduced rapidly, at little cost and without loss of quality, the fact that "everybody is copying things all the time" doesn't change the law.
It would be a serious mistake to think that widespread consumer abuse means that copyright infringement is never redressed. Virtually every day there are substantial damages awarded for copyright infringement. From a strategic perspective, a claim for copyright infringement can often be an important addition to a claim for misuse of trade secrets, passing off or misleading and deceptive conduct.
Indeed, Cleardocs has successfully protected its copyright several times — and received substantial amounts of money in compensation.
It may be time for a copyright audit at your organisation. You should know:
In this age of the "knowledge economy" or "information economy" your organisation's intangible assets, such as copyright material, are assuming greater importance and greater value. It is crucial that your business knows what copyright material it owns, how it may exploit it or commercialize it and what value it should have in the balance sheet.
Some final hints:
If you have any questions about this article, or intellectual property generally, then please call the Maddocks Intellectual Property and Information Technology team in Melbourne on 03 9288 0555.
Leigh is a partner in the Maddocks Tax & Revenue team.
Leigh regularly provides advice on:
His advice covers both direct and indirect tax considerations.
Leigh advises Australian and multinational companies, high net worth individuals, accountants and financial advisers on all areas of taxation law.
The legal information and commentary on this site is general only. Documents ordered through Cleardocs affect the user's legal rights and liabilities. To assess their suitability for the user, legal accounting and financial advice must be obtained.
For more information, contact Maddocks on (03) 9258 3555 and ask to speak to a member of their team.