Media Law Update (25 Feb): Copyright, Freedom of information

Personal commentary on the risks surrounding copyright and the freedom of information:

Copyright is a noble cause and without copyright protection journalism, as a business, could not exist. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 protects a publication from having it’s content lifted word for word and thus maintains exclusivity – which has value. In the last year there has been some updating to copyright law to keep up with the digital age.

The main focus of this week’s blog is to explore what copyright is and why it matters. There are many dangers of breaching copyright inadvertently – getting it wrong (e.g. re-using TV library material) could cost a journalist a lot of money, as well as their reputation. Journalists should respect copyright in the same way they would want their copyright respected. Ignorance is no defence.

It is important to recognise copyright issues early in the production process. Contacting rights holders takes time, which you might not always have. Sometimes there are ways of avoiding expensive copyright material (e.g. using stills rather than video). Just because material is in your library or archive doesn’t mean you can freely use it.

However, copyright doesn’t just cover journalists’ work, it covers all forms of intellectual property and creative content – including that of the public. What is not protected under the law is undeveloped ideas.

For example, in 2007, two authors, who claimed Dan Brown‘s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code was largely copied from their earlier book, lost an appeal over the case. The Appeal upheld the previous High Court verdict, which ruled that while both books explored similar ideas this did not constitute a breach of copyright. This is because there is no copyright in ideas – only in actual work.

In contrast, there was a case several years ago, where a photo taken of the Darwin couple in Panama – which blew their cover – published by the Daily Mirror – was also run by the BBC on the understanding it was Mirror copyright. It wasn’t and the BBC had to settle costs with the original photographer for breach of copyright.

This case highlights the importance of checking the source of material in the event that it might later put you in breach of copyright licence.

In the News:

In the news today (25th February 2015), the Telegraph reported that Joseph Kahn, the director of a Power Rangers fan film starring James Van Der Beek, has claimed that he is being “harassed” by Haim Saban who owns the rights to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Kahn’s film, which was hosted by Vimeo, was removed by the website, which apparently cited copyright issues only a few hours after giving the film a “Staff Pick” accolade. Vimeo‘s decision to remove the hit short film has sparked a furious ‘fair use’ debate on Twitter.

The argument being used by Kahn is that of fair use, free speech and satire. He also argues that the video was made for free and therefore he isn’t making any money off of it and thus compares it to drawing a picture of power rangers on a napkin and giving it to a friend. However, Kahn has published his video in the public domain and not just for personal use and as such there are restrictions and implications.

To round up:

Copyright issues have a tendency to crop up in routine stories and must therefore be respected – ignorance is no defence and so if in doubt it is always important to seek advice.

Law Notes: Copyright

Copyright protects intellectual property (the product of skill, creativity, labour or time). Copyright breach is making beneficial use of someone else’s intellectual work without their permission and claimants can sue for damages and loss of earnings.

Examples of what is protected under copyright:

  • Books
  • Films
  • Music
  • Photographs

Examples of what is NOT protected under copyright:

  • Undeveloped ideas
  • Brief slogans or catchphrases

Fair Dealing 

When ‘reporting current events’ a degree of ‘lifting’ of copyright material is allowed. This is also known as ‘fair dealing’.

 Examples of ‘fair dealing’:

  • You can lift quotes from a rival publication/broadcaster.
  • As long as in the public interest (e.g. misconduct of someone of public concern).
  • It is attributed (i.e. not passed off as your own work).
  • The usage must be ‘fair’ and must not compete with level of exploitation the copyright holder enjoys.

Fair dealing allows broadcast arts review shows to air clips and this is known as the ‘criticism and review’ exception. It also allows broadcasters to feature famous movie clips on the death of a film or TV star. This is ‘reporting current events’.

The big exception is photographs as no ‘part’ of a photo can be lifted – it’s all or nothing.

Copyright and the Internet

  • YouTube material is subject to copyright.
  • Everything on the internet subject to copyright.

Sports Rights is big danger area for News

  • Pictures may be ‘out of time’ in rights terms (i.e. rights may only be for certain number of showings in 24 hours).
  • Don’t assume you can ‘fair deal’ under reporting current events defence (e.g. when ITV had the Grand Prix rights, the BBC couldn’t run Grand Prix pictures in a sports story about a driver or team). Also, for example, the BBC can never run the Jonny Wilkinson world cup winning kick from 2003 without an agreement.

About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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