New Life in Old Rights - an important change to copyright law

Copyright Owners: Check the age of your artistic works, you may be sitting on copyright treasure and not realise it.

Businesses: Double check your rights to reproduce works that you previously thought you were free to copy because you thought copyright had expired.

Why: It used to be the case that if an "Artistic Work" had been industrially manufactured (which in practice meant more than 50 copies had been made) then copyright lasted only 25 years from when it was first marketed.

That law (section 52 of the Copyright and Designs Act) has just been abolished. So, with effect from 28 July 2016, copyright in such works now lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. 

What is the impact: So for a lot of potentially valuable assets the previously expired copyright may well have been extended or revived and new long term value created. Examples of such assets could include paintings and photographs, and designer goods based on works of artistic craftsmanship e.g. some furniture and furnishings watches and jewellery.

"Artistic works" is a broad phrase covering graphic works (any painting, drawing, diagram, map, chart or plan, and any engraving, etching, lithograph, woodcut or similar work); any photograph, sculpture or collage, irrespective of artistic quality, a work of architecture being a building or a model for a building, or a work of artistic craftsmanship.

What to do: Mark Lomas, Head of Intellectual Property at Ashfords LLP, said: "The last time the duration of copyright was extended in the UK, there were all sorts of legal issues for those licensing copyright works or holding the underlying copyright. Owners and licensees (and those genuinely thinking they are entitled to freely copy such works) really do need to review what they own and what can or cannot be done with such works to avoid missing out on their underlying value or to avoid infringing someone else rights".

For more information, please get in touch with a member of the Intellectual Property Team

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