Lucy Du-Jones is a legal advisor for Du-Tian, offering cost-effective and dedicated legal support to startups and small businesses.

With IP and copyright laws changing in response to emerging technologies, many businesses won’t be aware that they are leaving themselves open to legal risks. If your business has any kind of presence online, unintentional copyright infringement can wreak havoc.

In 1988 the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) was passed to promote creativity, originality and healthy competition. However, the CDPA was passed at a time when technology was not as advanced as in the present day. IP infringement now operates in a mature and international market and poses a real threat to businesses.

The internet has allowed any business to market to international clientele using customer databases and foreign websites, but this creates a new challenge for growing businesses. Companies will aggressively defend worldwide intellectual property rights. A recent example of this is Facebook’s recent win against a Chinese company looking to launch a new beverage called face book. When marketing your brand overseas, its name may already be owned by someone else – conduct the necessary research.

Previously, copyright infringement meant copying and pasting someone else’s words into your own book or an image into your publication and passing it off as your own. With Twitter, Facebook and YouTube so prominent, it is crucial you are making sure you attribute all your collateral to the author. If not, you may get an unwanted letter from a stock image company alleging that you have used their images illegally. There can even be legal ramifications to copying a hyperlink from someone else’s website and using it on your own (as seen in the 2014 Svensson case).

Under the CDPA if someone uses another’s copyright for reporting current events or for editorial purposes, this is considered ‘fair dealing’ and not a violation of the CDPA. This is an established defense to copyright infringement in the UK. However, with the increase of blogging, social media commentary and online forums, there is now ambiguity on what constitutes ‘fair dealing’ for the purposes of current events reporting. A recent case brought by the England and Wales Cricket Board provided a 3-stage test to establish what would be considered ‘fair dealing’).

Changes in technology have advanced the rate at which the law must evolve. Data and web scraping, the process of copying information online, used to be a manual process that involved trawling websites or documents. Now, off-the-shelf software specialises in automated crawling and information retrieval. It is imperative that firms are aware of the changes to the legal landscape, especially when those laws can protect or impugn businesses working online. The law on data and web scraping remains a grey area which businesses should keep an eye on, especially in light of the EU’s 2015 decision in Ryanair vs PR Aviation.

Intellectual property infringement may result in criminal and civil liability, and aside from the costly effects of a lawsuit, the loss of reputation could be a deal breaker for your business, regardless of whether the final judgement clears your name or not. If you would like to meet for a coffee to understand more about IP infringement and securing your business against copyright laws, please email me.