In Ireland, copyright law is contained in the Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000. Copyright protects:-
- original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works (traditionally called the “classical” copyrights);
- film, sound recordings, broadcasts and the typographical arrangement of published editions (often called “related rights”, because they involve the exploitation of “classical” works);
- computer software and non-original databases (despite their modest credentials as “creative” works) and
Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, styles, techniques or information. For example, if you write an outline of your idea for a TV show, the outline itself will be protected by copyright. However, another person could write their own script using your general ideas without necessarily infringing copyright. The other person would only be infringing your copyright in the outline if they started copying enough of the way you had, for example, structured your plot.
Some “works” are too small or unoriginal to be protected as copyright works. For example, single words, names, titles, slogans and headlines are unlikely to be protected by copyright – although they may be protected in other ways, for example as trademarks.
There is no system of registration for copyright protection in Ireland as copyright arises automatically on the creation of an original work. You do not need to publish your work, to put a copyright notice on it or do anything else to be covered by copyright – protection is free and automatic.
A work is protected automatically from the time it is first written down or recorded in some way, provided that it has resulted from the creator’s skill and effort and is not simply copied from another work.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be difficult for an author to prove that he or she had created a work at a specific point in time. Proof of this fact might be needed in an action for infringement. An author can create such proof by sending a copy of the work to himself or herself by registered post, keeping the post office receipt and leaving the envelope unopened. Another way of creating this type of proof is to deposit the work with an organisation such as the Copyright Protection Agency, which, for a fee, will provide the necessary proof should the need arise.
A copyright notice does not need to be placed on a work before it is protected by copyright. However, it is prudent to do so as it reminds people that the work is protected and identifies the person claiming the rights. The notice usually consists of the symbol © followed by the name of the author and the date of creation.
In most cases, copyright lasts for the creator’s lifetime plus seventy years.
Copyright gives the creator the right to prevent others from exploiting the work in various ways, without permission. The form of restricted exploitation include: copying the work; making the work available to the public; distributing the work; renting or lending it (excluding public lending); and translating, arranging or adapting the work. It is these restrictions which enable the creator to charge a fee, or royalty for the reproduction of the work.
The rights described above are usually called the “economic rights” in the work. Moral rights were previously unknown under Irish law, but are a common feature in other European systems. They have been introduced in Ireland as a result of European Directives aimed at harmonising copyright law throughout the European Union in the Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000.
The moral rights of interest to authors are: the paternity right (the right to be identified as the author of the work); the integrity right (the right to prevent mutilation, distortion or other derogatory alteration of the work) and the right of false attribution (the right not to have a work falsely attributed to you).
Moral rights may be waived, but a waiver must be in writing.
An author cannot prevent the copying, or other use of his or her work, if that use is covered by one of the exceptions to copyright. The principal copyright exceptions of relevance to authors are:
In order to infringe the author’s copyright, a “substantial” part of the work must have been copied. Insubstantial copying is therefore permitted. Because it is impossible to say with certainty what is meant by “substantial” in any given situation, users are often reluctant to rely on this exemption. Equally however, authors litigate at some risk.
A work may be used by anyone for the purposes of research or private study without the permission of the author, provided the use is conducted in a way which does not prejudice the rights of the copyright owner. The work may also be used for criticism or review or for reporting current events, with the same proviso, and provided further that the use of the work is accompanied by an acknowledgement identifying the author and the title of the work.
This bundle of exceptions is known as “fair dealing”. Although the legislation does not state the fact, it is unlikely that the making of multiple copies of a work will ever qualify as fair dealing.
The use of author’s works for certain educational purposes is permitted. These include the use of the work in examinations, and the inclusion of a short passage from the work in an anthology for schools.
Libraries and archives are given limited rights to copy works under certain conditions. Public libraries and certain educational establishments may also lend works without infringing the rights of the author.
Copyright owners can assign or licence their rights. Assigning rights mean someone else becomes the owner; licensing means another person can use the copyright material. Assignments and licences can apply to all the rights in the material or to just one or some of the rights. For example, an author may give an assignment or licence to reproduce their story in an anthology but retain all other rights.