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What is copyright infringement?

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IP Disputes

What is copyright infringement, you ask? Copyright infringement is a common IP dispute that emerges when an original creative work that attracts copyright protection is used without the express consent of the copyright holder. This FAQ looks closer at copyright and infringement.

What is Copyright Infringement? Image of a blue paint smear used to represent creativity.


Video Explainer: Copyright infringement



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What is Copyright?


Copyright is an unregistered right which protects original creative works.

Copyright comes into existence at the point where an original creative work is made. Copyright protects the original characteristics of the work.

Copyright can protect things such as:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work (including illustration and photography)
  • Original non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases
  • Sound and music recordings
  • Film and television recordings
  • Broadcasts
  • The layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works


Generally speaking, in the UK, copyright lasts for the life of the author of the work plus 75 years. Although this can depend on the type of creative work that is under copyright protection.

You can learn more about copyright by clicking here to read our "What is Copyright" FAQ.


What is infringement?


Infringement is the breach of a law or legal right.

In intellectual property, this typically involves copying or making use of someone’s intellectual property without their express permission.

Permission can be granted by getting into contact with the IP rights holder and in some cases may incur a license fee for use.

Once permission has been granted or a license has been obtained the use of the work is no longer infringing.

The owner of the copyright is, typically, the creator of the original creative work.

However, there are exceptions - for example, an employee of a company who has created works in the course of business typically automatically assigns the copyright to those works to the company they work for. The ownership of the copyright for original creative works can also be formally assigned through legal documentation. 

As such, when making use of a copyrighted work lawfully - it is crucial to gain permission from the correct owner of the copyright within the work in question.

In IP, infringement may involve IP rights such as patents, design rights, trade marks and, of course, copyright.


What is Copyright Infringement?


Copyright infringement is when creative works attracting copyright (such as protected writing and illustrations) are used without permission from the copyright holder.

This can also include the creation of a new original work that is based on or is derivative of, a copyrighted work.


Copyright Infringement example: Game of thrones and YouTube


A Song of Ice and Fire is a popular series of books written by author George R.R. Martin. These books have themselves been turned into many successful TV serieswith an array of other goods, services and media that have come into existence as a consequence of the original series of books. For George R.R. Martin, and his company, the owners of the creative works in question (and likely an array of associated rights e.g. trade marks), the licensing of these copyright works and brands represents a significant revenue stream resulting in new opportunities for fans to engage with the world that the books have created.

There are various ways that fans might engage with the original copyright works both lawfully and unlawfully. What follows is a couple of examples of fans doing so on YouTube, one that may attract an infringement claim, and another that would be less likely to.


Non-infringing Example: Critique and Review


The first of the two channels is a book review channel. In the video, the video presenter discusses what they like and what they don't like about the books. In doing so, they use a few small excerpts to speak about particular points within the books that they want to highlight. The video is largely entirely their opinions, with some small uses of the material itself. This usage would be unlikely to draw a copyright infringement complaint as the use of the original copyright work is limited and does not form the majority of the video. In addition, its use can be seen to fall under some of the lawful exemptions for use of a copyright-protected work. 


Infringing Example: A Reading


The second of the two channels is sharing a series of videos. These images consist of an image of the front cover of the book, with the video creator reading out a chapter of the book for each video. The idea here is to a complete series of videos which cover the entirety of the book series in totality. This would likely draw a copyright infringement complaint as it is simply an unauthorised recreation of the works in question - which themselves are licensed into official audiobooks on platforms such as Audible. 


Copyright infringement is a complicated area. Each instance is unique and opens up to a degree of interpretation and complex law. If you think: someone has infringed your copyright, that you may have infringed someone's copyright, or that you've received a notice - contact an IP solicitor as soon as possible to find out what your position is.


Secondary infringement


In some cases, you do not have to directly copy something yourself to commit copyright infringement.

If you make use of or profit from an infringing work you can be seen to commit what is known as secondary infringement.

An example might include an entertainment venue who use set-top boxes to access illicit streams of sporting events.

Whilst the entertainment venue are not themselves the source of these infringing streams, they are making profit from accessing them and can be prosecuted as secondary infringers.

As a business, you want to make sure any work you are using that is protected by copyright is only used with express permission from the owner to avoid an infringement case.


Infringement of copyright - image of a host of arrows hitting a target to represent an attack


What to do if someone is infringing my copyright?


If you think someone is infringing your copyright, the first thing you should do is gather as much evidence as you can discretely about the infringement you believe to be occurring; as this will help build your claim.

This will also stop the infringer from avoiding a claim by deleting or obscuring evidence of their actions, this often occurs once they have been notified, and can result in you being unable to later prove the infringement had occurred.

Next, you should contact a solicitor, they will be able to help you determine whether the alleged party is infringing your copyright or not.

A solicitor will help you plan and execute your next move, and identify and secure the best possible outcomes that can be achieved.

Do you need help enforcing a copyright infringement claim? Click the button below to contact our team and solve your problem today.


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What to do if someone claims I have infringed their copyright?


If someone has claimed that you have committed copyright infringement – review their claims carefully, the sophistication of the letter received and contact a solicitor to review the accuracy and strength of their claim.

Do not respond to them personally before you are sure of your legal position – as you may receive a claim that is unfounded and that, as such, you do not have to respond to.

Where relevant you can remove or “takedown” the alleged infringing works (whether permanently or temporarily), as this will stop any risk of further damage should the claim be accurate.

Do you need help with reviewing a copyright infringement claim? Click the button below to contact our team and solve your problem today.


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How do I prevent copyright infringement?


Your original creative works (such as writing, illustrations, photos) automatically attract copyright protection from the moment they are created. As such, you do not need to do anything to initiate copyright protection.

In the United States of America, you are encouraged to register your copyright at the USPTO. In the majority of other countries worldwide, this is not required.

It can be beneficial, however, to notify people that you consider your work's copyright protected and that you will enforce this copyright.

This can be achieved by using a copyright notice and the © symbol affixed to any and all copyright works. An example of this can be seen at the bottom of this webpage, as this website and all content that appears on is protected by copyright owned by Virtuoso Legal Limited. 

It is important to be proactive in asserting your copyright protection using copyright notices (as above) and evidencing creation, especially when your day to day work hinges on copyright works (e.g. if you are a professional photographer).

In certain cases, it can also be beneficial to demonstrate enforcement of your copyright as well as being reactive in contacting a solicitor straight away when infringement occurs. A reputation for strong enforcement of your copyright is often viewed as a deterrent for would-be copyright infringers.


What are the consequences of copyright infringement?


Copyright infringement comes under a civil court matter and not a criminal matter - unless counterfeiting is involved.

This means cases in the UK will typically go to IPEC (Intellectual Property Enterprise Court) unless the damages in question are likely to be excessive.

If you want to take someone to court for copyright infringement you will be typically able to sue for a reasonable royalty or damages. In this way in the UK copyright is a restorative right - enabling the victim of copyright infringement to be restored to the financial position they would be in should the infringement had not occurred.

Whether enforcing or defending a claim it is best to advise a solicitor in relation to this, as they will be able to identify and secure the most favourable outcome for you and your business.



What you can do now


Are you affected by a copyright infringement claim?

If so, we advise that you gather as much evidence as possible to enforce or defend your claim.

It is important to remember that a legal letter is only as powerful as the words that are written on it, and fully informed claims and defences have greater impact on outcomes.

Often legal letters are received that have little legal standing and are not enforceable.

As such, it is advised that you seek a copyright infringement specialist to review any letter you have received in order to ascertain its significance.

As specialists in intellectual property the complexities of this area is part of our everyday workload. We deal with hundreds of copyright claims per year.

We can help you win your case and make sure it is dealt with quickly and cost-effectively - so you don’t get dragged into a costly dispute.

To see how we have helped others in previous cases, please look at our testimonials here.

Our most notable case is when we defended Cyclone Events Limited against Twentieth Century Fox. Click the link below to read this case and how we can defend the ‘underdogs" reducing a sizeable claim in the high court to a much smaller claim in the IPEC.


Do you need help with copyright infringement? Click the button below to contact our team and solve your problem today.


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Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide.Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.


DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waive any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances. If you are experiencing an issue and need advice, we strongly encourage you to contact a solicitor to identify your best course of action.

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