The most common copyright dispute we see involves an image used on a website which the website owner does not own or have permission to use.
The reason this happens is that either a web designer has grabbed an image from the internet and used it in the site design, or someone within the business has done so. This mistake is invariably caused by the assumption that material on the internet is in the public domain and may be freely used. Alternatively, people unwittingly use material that infringes on someone else’s rights because they had not realised that the copyright licence they obtained does not permit them to use the image for the purpose or in the ways they have used them.
Infringement is sometimes deliberate. For example, there may be an existing contractual arrangement in place governing copyright and the contract is terminated, breached or is otherwise in dispute.
As the copyright owner is the person that has exclusive rights to copy and distribute the image or other copyright works, infringement disputes can arise all too often.
Where someone copies or distributes copyrighted work without the authorisation of the copyright holder, they may be liable for copyright infringement. That is, unless they can establish that an exception applies or that they have a valid defence.
For example, there are exceptions to infringement in certain limited circumstances, such as. in certain situations where someone makes personal use of the work, rather than commercial use.
Copyright Ownership Disputes
When a work or product is created that the law protects through copyright, then the copyright in that work usually belongs to the person who creates it. The law refers to that person as the ‘author’.
Where a work is created by two or more people, it can be complicated to work out who owns the copyright. So, whenever a work is created jointly with others it’s important to discuss how to control that ownership so that the work can be exploited even if a dispute arises between the copyright owners.
Copyright infringement might arise if there have been many changes in ownership as it is difficult to work out who owns the copyright, and can give permission to use it. For example, if you see an image on a website that you want to use and ask the website owner if you may use it, then even if they give you permission, you could be infringing copyright unless they have permission to give someone else permission to use the image.
Note that where work is commissioned from another business or freelancer it is sensible to clarify in writing who is to own the copyright.
The legal rules that apply in default, lead to some surprising consequences. Where a contract is not used disputes are much more likely to arise.
Resolving Copyright Disputes
The first step in a copyright infringement dispute might be a cease and desist letter. If you receive such a letter get legal advice.
Copyright infringement disputes are normally resolved through negotiation between the parties. Failing an agreed settlement the dispute would be decided by the courts.