Copyright or copy, right?

Help yourself! Go on, it’s on the internet and as everybody knows, if it’s on the internet, it’s fair game. So copy and paste at will. These words are free, right?

Well, no, not really. Technically they’re subject to copyright, which means I, as the copywriter, have the right to prevent others from copying or reproducing these words without my permission, sue for infringement if they are reproduced without permission or, where I do give permission, expect a fee for them. I don’t have to register the copyright. It ‘arises’ automatically in the process of origination and belongs to the creator.

So, stop right there, pal. Don’t even think about it!

Hands up all those who have never done, even just a teeny bit of sneaky copying from the web for their own blog or white paper, taking care to change the words around a little so no-one notices. It’s not copying, it’s ‘hommage’.

For bloggers, it’s an occupational hazard, and the truth is, very little written web content is actually worth defending. Bloggers might be more than a little peeved to see their lovingly-honed prose lifted in chunks and reproduced under someone else’s name, but the loss is bearable.

It’s a different story when intellectual property with a genuine commercial value is infringed. In the latest issue of First Voice – the magazine we produce for the Federation of Small Businesses – a Dorset business owner tells the story of his eight-year legal battle against a foreign manufacturer, who, he alleges, ‘stole’ his invention.

The former farmer designed a feeding device for game bird and poultry farming. He says he felt ‘sick’ the moment he came across the almost identical product at a trade fair. It was being made in another country and imported by a competitor.

“We’d gone to enormous trouble to do everything right – testing and refining the design, and patenting it in several jurisdictions before we started marketing it,” he said. “It has been crucifying.”

The cost in lost sales and legal fees has been enormous. And his barrister tells him he stands only a slim chance of winning the court case he’s bringing against the alleged infringer.

In my research for the article I spoke to a number of small business owners with similar stories that seem to reflect the difficulties of defending intellectual property, even when a patent is granted.

One legal expert said there’s no point in having a patent if you’re not prepared to defend it, but the cost of mounting a challenge could be colossal. It comes down to who’s got the deepest pockets.

As our inventor told me: “We had a meeting with this firm’s managing director, who as good as admitted to taking our design. But he said. ‘We’re much bigger than you. If you challenge us, we’ll suffocate you’.”

Puts the irritation of a few copied and pasted paragraphs into perspective, doesn’t it?

So, really… if you want this, copy away. I’ll just be happy to know it’s found a new home.

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