Is It Law-Breaking?

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Is It Law-Breaking?

Post by keith_12345 »

If I make a copy of a work that has been marked as being dedicated to the public domain but infringes copyright, am I law-breaking?
Also, if I view a work that infringes copyright, am I law-breaking?
Last edited by keith_12345 on Sat Aug 17, 2019 8:49 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi Keith
I'm not sure what you mean when you say "a work that has been marked as being dedicated to the public domain but infringes copyright". A copyright work enters the public domain when copyright no longer applies to it, for instance 70 years after the death of the author. I'm not sure how one would 'dedicate' something to the public domain. In theory an author can abandon his rights, but basically means he ceases to enforce his rights, much as one might abandon a piece of physical property by putting it in a skip. The normal route by which people effectively signal that they won't enforce their copyright (even though it continues to exist) is through open licensing such as Creative Commons. If someone failed to abide by the terms of a CC licence (say one which disallows derivative works) then all that has occurred is a breach of contract, although it has been argued that this would also infringe copyright, but it is rare for this to be followed up by court action.

And I would avoid the terminology of law-breaking as this sounds like a criminal offence, whereas in most instances of infringement it is a civil wrong for which the author may sue for damages and a couple of other remedies.

Although primary copyright infringement is what is termed a matter of strict liability - that is to say ignorance on the part of an infringer is no defence - if it appears that the author had abandoned all his/her rights in a work, then there may be a quasi-defence known as estoppel by acquiescence, which if the court accepts that pleading, would mean that the court would decline to provide the complainant with any remedy for his claim, even though technically speaking infringement had been proved.

The question about viewing an infringing work is interesting, because up until recently I would have firmly have said no, that didn't amount to infringement. However a recent decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union has made things much less certain. In simple terms just viewing such a work would still be OK, but if you were running a website for a commercial purpose and linked to an unauthorised use of a copyright work, then you might be liable for infringement by virtue of making the work available to the public without authorisation. This is still very new caselaw and it remains to be seen how the lower courts will actuall
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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