Resolving Copyright infringement - David and Goliath - Business Works
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Resolving Copyright infringement - David and Goliath

Farzana Rahman, MD, The Desi Doll Company Last month, UK firm The Desi Dolls Company found itself the victim of a copyright infringement by a US greetings card company. As more corporate information is available on the web, finding your text or imagery has been used by copied in some way is a likely occurrence, but in this instance the case was a little more sensitive.

The Desi Dolls Company was alerted to a story in a national newspaper discussing a US greetings card company which had parodied their product on an offensive card. The card depicted the company's popular Aamina Doll with various slogans joking about terrorism and promoting racial stereotyping. The story came as a complete surprise to the company, who would have immediately declined the use of their imagery in this context. The dolls were created to educate children about different cultures, languages and faiths, so to use the positive image to potentially incite or refer to racial hatred, even in the guise of a ‘joke’ was not something the company would be a part of.

But, as a small company with just 3 staff, The Desi Doll Company had no idea what their rights were, what to do next, or how to take on a large US company. Farzana Rahman, Managing Director at The Desi Doll Company asks John Buckby, an Intellectual Property lawyer about the case and what advice he would give to small businesses in similar situations.

Farzana: Is copyright infringement a common problem for businesses?

John: It depends what field your company operates in and whether copyright works are core to its business. The Desi Doll Company produces artwork for its products and it was this artwork which became an issue in terms of copyright. If copyright works are not core to your business, copyright infringement is less likely to be an issue.

Farzana: Has the internet made the problem worse?

John: The web makes it easier to access copyright works in digital form and copy them in high quality. It’s fairly common for text and images to be copied, the question is whether you become aware of it. In most cases it is unseen and under the radar, when you do find out it’s often not worth taking action. If it’s a private individual it’s rarely going to be worth suing them for the minimal financial damage they’ve caused you, but if a decent sized business has copied your copyright works without permission and used them in a more widespread way, then the value of the claim will be higher and it may be worth taking action.

Farzana: Does the context in which copyrighted works affect the case?

John: Yes, this case raises issues beyond the simple question of whether a copyright work has been copied. In the UK, the offensiveness of the cards would touch on whether the ‘moral rights’ of the author of the Desi Doll image have been infringed. These ‘moral rights’ include the right to object to ‘derogatory treatment’ of your work and the right to be acknowledged as the author of the work. There are also other factors which affect this case - but all cases are different and have their own quirks!

Farzana: Is there more complexity when international companies are involved?

John: Yes. In this case the overseas nature creates additional hurdles to enforcement. There may be a question of whether a defence is available for parody use - in the USA there is a ‘fair use’ defense for parody (although I’d be amazed if it applied here). There is not currently an equivalent parody defence in English law. In addition, as the infringement took place overseas, by an overseas company, the company is likely to need to take action overseas and employ overseas lawyers. If an overseas company infringes your rights in the UK you can commence proceedings in the UK, but they may not co-operate in being sued, and you may have to then enforce a UK judgement overseas. This can be time-consuming and will also involve overseas lawyers. It’s much easier when it’s all in the UK.

Farzana: Is it difficult for a small business to take on a large corporation?

John: It can be, because of the disparity in resources. A large corporation may have teams of lawyers to fight their case. They can try to put hurdles in your way and make a small business less sure of the strength of its case. The main difficulty will be cost. This is getting easier, with the Patents County Court and its new small claims track for lower value claims, but the lawyers can still be fairly expensive! At the same time, in many ways it’s actually better to have a large corporation on the other side, as you know they won’t disappear, they won’t want the bad press and they have the resources to pay you damages and legal costs if you win.

Farzana: What tips would you give to a small business to protect them from copyright infringement?

John: Here are a few:

  • Identify what in your business can be protected by copyright – only certain categories of ‘works’ are protected by copyright.
  • Make sure you do actually own the copyright. Was it created by an employee, or by an outside designer? If it was created by an external designer, you will need a written assignment if you want to own it. This is a common mistake.
  • Keep on file evidence detailing the creation of the original work, including dates of creation, the identity of the author and copies of earlier drafts. This will help you to prove that it was your own independent work and when it was created.
  • Keep on file evidence about the publication and use of your own work in the market. This will help you to show that an infringer would have had access to your work, which will help you to argue that it must have been copied.
  • If you post photographs or images on the internet, you should consider including copyright notices in the photograph, such as '© 2013 PhotoPics Limited, all rights reserved'. This makes it clear that it’s your work and that use is restricted. It also helps people to track you down if they want to license the work.
  • If you operate a website, use appropriate website terms and conditions which states what users can and cannot do with the words and images included on the website. But don’t just copy and paste someone else’s terms and conditions – because that would infringe copyright ... !!

For more information about Desi Dolls, please visit:

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