You are the Judge – copyright question


The fourth scenario in our You are the Judge series is a situation in which a person has created original content and lost it, but hadn't done anything to register the content. How does copyright law work? How is ownership proved?

What do you think the correct answer is in this situation?

Intellectual property - books


Tracy loved writing.

For years she had been working on a novel, a Victorian murder mystery called “Black Candelabra”. She kept the work in progress in a folder that she carried everywhere with her.

One day, to her utter dismay, she left it on the bus. She made several attempts to find it but it was never handed in, and she assumed that her story was lost.

Some years later, Tracy was in a bookshop and noticed that a new best seller was also called “Black Candelabra”. Intrigued, but assuming it was a coincidence, she bought a copy. To her shock, it was her novel, completed and printed under someone else’s name!

Tracy had never seriously intended to publish her novel and had never done anything to protect her intellectual property. Is she entitled to anything? What can she do?

Let us know what you think.

The answer:

In the UK, copyright exists automatically in any new writing.

Everything from a child’s homework to a shopping list, and including the next bestseller, is copyrighted without the author needing to lift a finger. There is no need even to include the © symbol, which is an artefact from an older system.

However, this doesn't mean that Tracy can sit back and watch the cash roll in. She will need to prove - on the balance of probabilities - that it is her work, for example through any other notes she has on it, or witness statements from people she had told about it.

If she can manage this, she should be able to claim any money paid to the purported author.

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