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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Protecting intellectual property
Protecting intellectual property
Keywords Intellectual property
In most industries, the question of intellectual property rights is most commonly raised in relation to counterfeit components or infringement of patents. Most of us who have had experience of one or the other in our professional lives realise what a threat it is to fair business practice and how difficult and expensive it can be to seek redress. With the ever-increasing globalisation of world trade there has been a growing awareness of the need to enforce standards of ethical trading in all industries, including our own, and to defend those companies and individuals whose rights are being infringed.
In this context, it is perhaps appropriate to look first at our own standards and practices. Ever since the invention of the photocopier, casual infringement of copyright has become so widespread that many assume the intellectual property laws do not apply to photocopying. This is not the case. In the UK, the only copying permitted by law is for research or private study and is limited by strict conditions. All other copying, by whatever means – including the use of scanners or OCR (optical character recognition) – remains totally illegal.
Organisations have been formed all over the world to combat the many different forms of copyright abuse. Among these is the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) which represents the rights of authors and publishers of books, journals and periodicals, both in the UK and abroad, and which has recently turned its attention to engineering, manufacturing and process industries.
The CLA is a non-profit making company owned by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and the Publishers Licensing Society. Its remit is to issue licences, collect and distribute fees back to rights holders. In 1998, the total of £16 million redistributed to authors and publishers by the CLA came from various sectors, including education, the British Library, insurance and financial services, the legal profession and certain research-based industries, such as pharmaceuticals.
Licences for copying may be relatively unfamiliar to many British companies, but have long been accepted in the USA, where almost all major corporations are licensed by the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), the American equivalent of the CLA. The CLA, the CCC and other similar organisations throughout the developed world all belong to the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).
The cost of a licence is relatively modest and in proportion to a company's size and use of photocopied material, either predicted or recorded. Apart from any ethical considerations, it is a worthwhile investment in assuring that a company is complying with the law. Not only is copyright infringement a crime, but officers and directors can be held personally responsible.
Legal actions, both in the UK and elsewhere, have sometimes named individual employees and directors, although the cases rarely come to judgement. In practice, any substantial corporation will wish to avoid the damaging publicity of a successful prosecution and so invariably prefers to settle out of court.
The explosive growth in computer technology and e-commerce over the last few years could pose a new and equally potent threat to the rights of publishers and writers. The availability of a wide range of information on the Internet should not lead users to assume that this in any way undermines the legal protection of copyright law. In 1999, for the first time, the CLA began offering licences that permit scanning, storage and internal distribution by electronic means. This is symptomatic of a determination both in the UK and other advanced countries to ensure rights are protected in the digital age. Not only is the ethical argument unanswerable, but respect for copyright is crucial to our social and economic structures.