If you protect your brands, inventions or designs by registration, you will be used to dealing with Intellectual Property Offices and will perhaps also be familiar with the official registers in which the details of registrations are recorded. You will also likely be aware that registration of most forms of intellectual property (IP) brings advantages and is therefore usually desirable.
However, you may have also have received emails or notices detailing other registers, in particular registers offering to record your copyright and perhaps asking that you settle what appears to be an invoice for the privilege. Are these other registers legitimate? Are they even lawful, and even if they are, do they offer any advantages by registration?
Many notices that are not from official patent offices, or from recognised patent, trade mark and design right renewal agencies, are fishing exercises. Many of these will bear insignia which appear European or international in nature, in an attempt to make them appear official, while the registers themselves, even if they faithfully record and publish the details you provide, are unlikely to offer any legally recognised protection.
Copyright, in particular, is a right that requires no registration in the UK. To enforce copyright in the UK, what is really required is that you are able to prove that you own the copyright work. While a register might make this easier, there are often better ways of proving ownership, as explained below. We have heard reports of offers of copyright registration for a fee (often around £40 per work) lasting only a fixed number of years. This can be more expensive than registration in countries that maintain official registers such as the US. We encourage right holders to be wary about paying ‘registration’ fees, and are always happy to check details for you to confirm whether or not fees should be paid.
In the note below, we discuss copyright protection and registration of copyright in more detail.
Is Copyright Registration Necessary?
In the UK, registration of copyright is not necessary. Unlike patents, registered designs and registered trade marks, copyright is an unregistered right and there is no need to apply for protection, fill in forms or pay fees. Copyright exists automatically when a work is captured in a fixed form, e.g. when text is written down, when a picture is drawn, when a photograph is taken, or when a recording is made. In other countries, such as the US, registration may be beneficial however. See the link below for more information.
Is Registration With An Unofficial Copyright Service Beneficial?
Perhaps. If you want to enforce your copyright, in addition to proving that someone has copied your work, you also need to prove that copyright exists in the work, when the work was created and that you own the copyright.
There is no official UK copyright register. Unofficial online copyright registration services claim that registering a work with them makes it possible to prove the existence and ownership of copyright. In our opinion, it may indeed be one way of helping you prove when a work was fixed and that you own it. However, it does not offer any guarantee that you could successfully sue someone for infringement of copyright based on the register entry alone and so should be treated with caution.
The United States and a number of other countries have an official register for copyright works. Although registration in the US is not essential for protection, it is necessary if you want to enforce your rights there. There is nothing to stop you registering your work at the US Copyright Office (see: http://www.copyright.gov/) and though you pay an official fee (the current fee is $35 for the basic registration), it is likely to be less than the fees charged by unofficial registries.
Are These Online Services Scams?
Not necessarily. At least some do seem to be providing a service and claim to keep details of your work on their records for a number of years. However, the UK Intellectual Property Office also advises caution. (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy/c-about/c-about-faq/c-about-faq-unofficial.htm).
Are There Other Ways To Help You Prove Existence & Ownership Of Copyright?
Yes. Conventional methods are to deposit one or more copies of your work with a bank or solicitor or send copies to yourself by special delivery, leaving the date-stamp envelope unopened when it is returned to you.
However, as stated in the UKIPO note, “neither registration nor sending a copy of the work to yourself show that you were the creator of the work”. Nevertheless, “keeping copies of all your drafts and any other material that shows your connection with the particular copyright material as you develop it could, however, be useful evidence if you ever have to prove that you are the author”.
As further noted by the UKIPO, it is also advisable to mark published materials and any web pages with the copyright symbol ‘©’, the name of the copyright owner and the year of creation. Although, in the UK this is not essential, it may help to establish details in a case where you try to enforce your copyright, and it is particularly important for enforcement in some other countries.
If you receive a notice offering registration of copyright, or indeed any other intellectual property rights, proceed with caution. Check to see if the organisation offering registration is official. If it is not, check to see what service they are offering, and decide whether or not the service they are offering you is likely to be beneficial.
If you are concerned about proving ownership of a copyright work you have created, the best action is to keep good records and archives. If needed to, could you provide a trail (paper or digital) to show who created the copyright work and when? Also, remember that it is the author who initially owns the copyright in a copyright work, meaning that if you commissioned the work, you will not automatically own the copyright, and will need to have had the work assigned to you from the actual author.
The links below provide further information:
- UK Intellectual Property Office article – “Should I use an unofficial copyright register?”
- UK Intellectual Property Office information on Copyright
- UKIPO publication “Copyright: Basic facts”
- US Copyright Office article on “Copyright in General”
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.