Copyright – change to the law relating to artistic works

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Copyright – change to the law relating to artistic works

17 Jun 2016

A change in the law from 28 July 2016 will mean that artistic works which have been industrially exploited (where more than 50 copies have been produced) will now have a longer period of copyright protection.

Artistic works include – amongst other things – paintings, photographs, sculptures, collages, works of architecture, and works of artistic craftsmanship.  Under the current law the period of copyright protection for these works is limited to 25 years from the date of first marketing, which is considerably shorter than the usual period of protection – that is life of the author plus 70 years.

The effect of the change to the law is as follows:

• From 28 July 2016, all artistic works whether or not industrially reproduced, will have copyright protection for the life of the author plus 70 years. From this date you will not be able to make or import new copies of artistic works unless they were contracted before 28 October 2015 (unless permission has been granted by the rights holder or an exception applies).

• There is a 6 month transition period, with 28 January 2017 the cut-off date for dealing with any replicas or unauthorised copies made in reliance on the previous law. From this date therefore, any replicas or unauthorised copies will have to have been sold or destroyed.  Possession of an article after this date will not be a breach of copyright, although it may potentially become an infringement if done while acting in the course of a business.

This change in the law presents opportunities for copyright owners and, conversely, challenges for businesses relying on expired copyright. Copyright owners should make sure that they know which works will be subject to copyright and use this as an opportunity to enter into licences where appropriate.

However, it will cause difficulties for businesses that use industrially exploited copyright works which are currently outside the period of protection, as those works may, again, be subject to copyright. The works that are most likely to be affected by the change in the law are works of artistic craftsmanship, for example pieces of furniture. This does not stop designers from taking inspiration from existing works but does stop copying of works that were previously outside the period of copyright protection but now falls under it in the new law.

For example, a business that sells replica furniture that is currently outside copyright protection (as the furniture was industrially exploited and the 25 year period of protection has now passed), will from 28 July 2016 no longer be able to make or import any new replica furniture and from January 2017 will no longer be able to sell any remaining stock.  This will be a significant change for many businesses who will need to obtain a licence from the copyright owner to continue trading in this way.

For further advice dealing with this complex area, particularly in identifying whether or not a reproduced work is now within the period of copyright protection, as well as the drafting and negotiation of licence agreements and a review of the terms of any existing licences which relied on the old law, please contact Kuits Intellectual property team on 0161 838 7816.

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