Copyright and the aerospace industry

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




(2000), "Copyright and the aerospace industry", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 72 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Copyright and the aerospace industry

Keywords Aerospace industry, Copyright

Among the many issues confronting the aerospace industry, the protection of intellectual property by copyright has hardly registered on the list of priorities. Photocopying and now electronic communication have become so universal that most people would be surprised to learn that, apart from certain very restricted circumstances, it is actually illegal and can result in prosecution.

The nature of the aerospace industry, driven as it is by a constant demand for innovation and technological advance, means that intellectual property is a considerable factor in any company's success. Manufacturers and designers have invested substantially in the human resources and technology necessary to generate original and competitive ideas, yet often fail to pay the same attention to safeguarding the results of their own and others' work. A company's products can be protected by patenting. Original, creative work in the form of articles, books and Web pages is routinely printed out or copied without any regard to the authors and their rights.

In UK law, the only copying permitted is for research or private study and is limited by strict conditions. All other copying, by whatever means including the use of scanners and OCR (optical character recognition), is totally illegal. Legal action against named employees and directors for infringement of the intellectual property laws has been taken both in this country and the USA.

Authors are protected by the laws of copyright, in particular the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act, which enable them to receive fees for legitimate uses of their work and allow them to forbid unauthorised use. In reality, the universal practice of photocopying and the current explosion of electronic media have eroded awareness of the true position to the extent that there is a widespread assumption that these activities are exempt from copyright law.

Unless the legal rights of authors are defended by the whole industrial, scientific and academic community, there is a danger that these rights will eventually be undermined, as the assumption grows that any published work can be copied for use in any way, by any one, for any purpose. That this is a matter of practical as well as ethical importance which is demonstrated by the very serious threat facing the aviation industry from counterfeit components. If companies are prepared to ignore the laws of copyright in one area, they may find it difficult to defend their own intellectual property rights against a claim that these were already in the public domain. The Internet has brought this threat very much closer than ever before.

The whole issue is now being raised with the aerospace industry by the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), the national organisation representing the rights of authors and publishers of books, journals and periodicals, both in the UK and abroad. CLA is a non-profit making company limited by guarantee and owned by its members, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society and the Publishers Licensing Society. Its remit is to issue licences and collect and distribute fees back to rights holders. It is concerned with any form of copying that might infringe copyright, in particular photocopying and unauthorised electronic distribution of copyright material.

CLA offers, at modest cost, a variety of different licence structures, and charges are commensurate with the size of the organization and the scale of its use of copyright material. It is also worth noting that CLA always prefers to achieve its aims through voluntary agreements rather than by litigation. In 1999, for the first time, CLA will offer licences that permit scanning, storage and internal distribution by electronic means.

Since its formation in 1982, CLA has grown steadily and in the last year returned some »16 million to publishers and writers. There are equivalent organisations in countries throughout the developed world, most of which belong to the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).

At present, only a handful of the largest UK aerospace companies hold a CLA licence. In other sectors, the principle of licensed copying is much better established. Education, The British Library, the legal profession, banking, insurance and certain research-based industries, such as pharmaceuticals, have already recognised their obligations in this area. In the USA, almost all major corporations are licensed by the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), the American equivalent of CLA.

In the current climate, there is increasing pressure for companies to behave in accordance with principles of fair-trading throughout their business. Protecting intellectual property is not only morally right but is also expected of any self-respecting company. All high profile organizations know the damage bad publicity can cause and it is no surprise that prosecutions under copyright law involving larger corporations have tended to be settled out of court.

The aerospace community has been vigorous in protecting itself against patent infringements and the threat of counterfeit components. The copyright licensing system is a way to offer the same protection to the intellectual talents and originality which are the future of this and many other industries.

Details available from: The Copyright Licensing Agency Limited. Tel: (+44) (0)171 631 5519; Fax: (+44) (0)171 631 5500; e-mail:; Web site:

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