Just like a "property" right which belongs to the owner of a house and allows that owner to prevent others from entering or moving into that house, an "intellectual property" right belongs to a person or company that has generated some form of intellectual or creative work and allows that person or company to prevent unauthorised use of their intellectual creation.
Like other property, intellectual property rights can be either owned (by the rights owner) or licensed by the rights owner for use by other people. Use of an intellectual property right that you do not own or have the proper licence or permission to use, is an infringement of that intellectual property right.
Intellectual property rights exist in many different forms. For example, an inventor may own a patent protecting his invention for a new type of washing machine. This patent will give him a right to prevent others from re-creating his new invention, selling it to others and profiting from his new invention themselves. The law recognises that the inventor should be entitled to be rewarded for his "intellectual property" and therefore gives the inventor a right to control the way in which his new invention is exploited.
Similarly, a designer of a new hand bag will own design rights which demonstrate the designer's ownership of the new design and entitle him to prevent others from copying it. In this way the designer can control the way in which the new design is used and marketed and can be properly rewarded for his creativity.
Copyright is another "intellectual property" right, covered in more detail in section .
Other sorts of "intellectual property" rights which protect the product of people's creativity include performers' rights, moral rights and trade mark rights.
Essentially, all of these "intellectual property" rights are intended to attribute value to intellectual and creative work so that those involved in work of this nature can be rewarded for their endeavours.
Copyright is an "intellectual property" right that is automatically generated when a person or company creates a work that is capable of being protected by copyright. Copyright is essentially the right to prevent other people from copying, adapting, distributing (or doing other unauthorised acts to) that work. Copyright in most works exists for the duration of the original creator's lifetime and a further seventy years after that. There are variations to the length of time in which copyright exists in a work but this is the main principle. Copyright protects all sorts of different works or creations in different disciplines such as writing, music, art, film and TV. In the creative industries (such as the film and TV industries) copyright exists at lots of different levels to protect the end product of that industry, i.e. the film or TV programme. For example, in a film, copyright exists in the film sound track, the film screenplay, the set designs used in the film and the film itself. If that film is eventually shown on TV, copyright will also protect the broadcast of the film. Copyright is intended to give the copyright owner the right to control the copies that are made of a particular work, for example by granting somebody else - for a fee - the right to make a copy of the original work. The film and TV industries therefore rely on copyright to protect their interests and their right to generate income from exploiting the works that they create.
Copyright law is intended to protect creativity and investment in creativity. Like any industry, the film and TV industries can only exist if the work that they do generates an income for those involved. Copyright law structures the way that revenue is generated for the film and TV industries. In simple terms, every time a TV programme is broadcast, or a film is shown in the cinema, those involved in the creation of that content - at many different levels - give permission for the showing of that content in return for a royalty payment. If copies of the content are made without the rights owners knowing about it, the many levels of creators within the TV and film industries receive no payment for their creative work. Illegal copying of films and TV programmes therefore suppresses legitimate exploitation which results in lost revenues for the film and TV industries. This is likely to have the following effects:
- lower quality and less choice of content for all consumers; and
- reduced funding for new productions and services because of:
- decreased opportunities for rights owners to earn royalties from any level; and
- job losses in the film and TV industries, e.g. for directors, producers, actors, sound engineers and camera crews and other related industries like the advertising industry.
Ultimately, illegal copying of films and TV programmes has a serious impact on the film and TV industries.
A counterfeit DVD is a DVD that contains an illegal copy of a film or a TV programme and passes itself off as being a legitimate copy. The makers and sellers of counterfeit or "pirate" DVDs infringe copyright law, commit criminal offences and usually infringe other sorts of intellectual property rights.
Generally speaking, it is illegal to copy a work protected by copyright if you do not have the permission of the person that owns the copyright in that work.
Downloading/uploading a film or TV programme without permission of the rights owner - in principle - constitutes illegal copying of a copyright work unless such copying falls within an exception to this principle.
It is legal to download/upload a film or TV programme online if you do so with the relevant rights owners' permission.
There are a number of other exceptions to the principle that you cannot copy a film or TV programme without the relevant rights owners' permission. The most relevant of these to consumers is the time shifting exception. This applies only in relation to TV or film content that is broadcast on the television.
The time shifting exception allows the legal copying of a TV broadcast of a film or TV programme (e.g. onto a DVD or on to a computer hard drive) only if:
- you make the copy in your own home; and
- you copy from the original broadcast; and
- your only reason for copying is to view the broadcast at a more convenient time.
This time shifting exception does not apply if you then share this copy with others by sending it to them or uploading it for download by them.
Some websites are set up to allow individuals or companies access to film or TV content regardless of whether the proper permission has been granted. By downloading/uploading this content, you are highly likely to do so without the relevant company's permission and therefore are in serious risk of acting illegally. You may be able to tell that a website contains illegally obtained film or TV content if, for example, you are being offered content that has not yet been shown in the cinemas or broadcast on TV in the UK or if the content is being offered for download at knock down prices.
Lots of broadcasters, producers and distributors are now making their films and TV programmes available for download over the Internet (for example through their own websites). To download this content is to do so with the relevant company's permission and is therefore legal. You will, however, have to comply with the conditions that will necessarily have to accompany the permission that is given to you.
This depends on the conditions which accompany your right to download the content. If you have downloaded a legal copy of a film or TV programme from a legitimate website then you do not own it but you hold it under licence from the TV programme rights owner. You can only transfer the download to another computer or send a copy to others if you have the licence terms allow you to do so. For example, when you buy a DVD, although you own the DVD, you do not own the copyright in the film contained in the DVD - you simply have a licence to watch it. You are usually expressly prohibited from making a copy of the DVD for anyone else.
Before you consider sharing or copying your licensed download with anybody else, you should check the conditions upon which the download was made available to you. If you are in any doubt, you should contact the company that granted you the original permission to download.
If you have downloaded a broadcast in order to view it at a more convenient time in accordance with the time shifting exception (referred to at section  above) and then you do something with your copy which is inconsistent with this legitimate purpose, you also risk acting illegally. For example if you then upload the broadcast onto the Internet for others to download, you are likely to be acting illegally.
Yes. Downloading film or TV content without the proper permission is a civil offence. This means that if you act illegally in your use of film or TV content, you are at risk of being sued by the film or TV rights owner.
You commit a criminal offence in the event that, without the proper permission, you:
- sell or make available for hire, or
- for commercial purposes, import to the UK, exhibit to the public or distribute, illegally obtained film or TV content, where you know (or have reason to believe) that the content is illegally copied.
The criminal penalties available in relation to this activity are high and depending on the seriousness of the crime could lead to either:
- imprisonment for up to six months or a fine not exceeding £5,000; or
- imprisonment for up to ten years or an unlimited fine.
These are the legal remedies that are available to protect the rights in film and TV content and to protect the interests of the film and TV industries.
Nina Peregrine-Jones is an associate in the intellectual property team at Olswang