Copyright for Photographers

Copyright for Photographers

Neil Howlett, Commercial Law Partner at Harris & Harris, gave a talk on 16th January 2015 to the members of Wessex Camera Club on copyright for photographers. This covered what could be protected by copyright, and the practicalities of taking photographs in public places. He also advised them about protecting and exploiting their rights, something which has become much more difficult in the modern world of digital photography and publishing.

As in any other context good evidence and record keeping are the start. People are much better protected if they put in place good legal agreements; model releases, licensing agreements, and contracts when they are commissioned to take photographs. They should define who can do what and be practical. Legal documents can never give 100% protection but without them the position of a rights owner may be worse.

Harris & Harris are happy to help photographers and others in the creative industries with legal agreements.

There is plenty of reliable advice available for free. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the Government body responsible for Intellectual Property Rights, publishes useful material written in plain English. Their Copyright Notice 1/2014 “Digital images, photographs and the Internet” explains how to use digital and photographic images on the internet. The IPO also provides online tools including IP Equip training and an IP Health Check, to help you create value from your ideas, turning inspiration into sustainable business success.

Please contact Neil Howlett

Is a verbal contract worth the paper on which it is written?

We regularly see clients who say “I haven’t got a contract”. What they mean is “I haven’t got a bit of paper”. Under English law almost any contract (except for buying land or a guarantee) can be made by word of mouth (or email). The main difference is that there is much more room for disputing the terms of a contract if it isn’t recorded – that’s more business for lawyers. Even for those areas where writing and signature are required the courts may find those in an exchange of emails.

A contract comes into existence once the parties have agreed the terms. It isn’t necessary for them to have agreed all the terms. The test is objective – the court looks at what the parties have said and whether the essential terms have been agreed. That is now commonly working through a set of emails.

Even for substantial commercial contracts there no requirement for greater formality. It is possible to create a legally binding contract before a document is drawn up and signed by the parties, even where they both expect to move on to that. As one judge put it – “Even if certain terms of economic or other significance have not been finalised, an objective appraisal of their words and conduct may lead to the conclusion that they did not intend agreement of such terms to be a precondition to a concluded and legally binding agreement.”

Even where there is an agreed intention for further condition to be fulfilled or terms to be agreed that may not prevent the contract coming into existence, if a reasonable person experienced in the business sector would think it had. A statement that a ‘formal contract will then follow in due course’ did not necessarily indicate that acceptance of a signed quotation was not legally binding.

If the parties can’t agree such further terms the existing contract is not invalid. If the parties can’t agree the court will, if necessary, enforce terms that are standard in the sector or give business efficacy to the terms agreed. What the court is very unlikely to do is to write in for you the terms that are often the most important, such as limitations on liability or practical protections for your assets and intellectual property.

The lesson is that when negotiating contracts all written communications relating to negotiations and contractual terms should be marked “Subject to Contract” unless and until you are to enter into a binding agreement on the basis of the terms agreed. As you approach that point be ready to instruct a solicitor to prepare a formal contract. Help us do that for you by letting us have clear “Heads of Agreement” setting out the essential commercial terms, and marked “Subject to Contract”. Help us save you money and protect your business.

 

Rough for the smoothie; or not so Innocent ?

When advising on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) the one thing we always emphasise is to set out and document agreements from the start.  Anything else is a recipe for disaster either for the designer or the business commissioning the work. You might expect businesses with a high profile as innovative and efficient to get it right but here’s an object lesson in how to get it wrong.

Everyone knows the wunder-brand Innocent and their iconic logo of the sketched apple face and halo.  This was created in 1998 in a eureka moment of “back of the envelope” genius during a brainstorming session involving the designer and the three friends who founded Innocent.  The company owned by the designer (Deepend) and Innocent (Fresh Trading) had drawn up heads of terms by which design services would be provided in return for shares in Innocent.  So far so good, but then it all went wrong.

The parties couldn’t agree whether the heads of terms were ever agreed and neither could produce a signed document.  Then Deepend went into liquidation.  Innocent never allocated any shares nor paid anything.  Not so good, and about to get worse.

Innocent did quite well; they obtained a Community Trade Marks (CTM) for the logo.  In 2007 the liquidator of Deepend assigned the copyright in the “halo” logo to a Mr Andrew Chappell, who assigned it to a company which applied to cancel the CTMs on the grounds that it had the copyright in the original “halo” design.

The tribunal which determined CTM disputes (OHIM) concluded that copyright subsisted in the original “halo” logo, as it was a commission Deepend were the owners of the copyright, in the absence of any written assignment Deepend, Innocent’s CTM infringed the “halo” design, so were cancelled.

OHIM also rejected arguments that in these circumstances, where the business had used the logo without complaint for a decade, that it had acquired all rights by an equitable assignment, or that there was an implied term requiring assignment of the copyright to give commercial effect to the agreement.  Such arguments have succeeded in the English courts, but Innocent have a difficulty that even if there was an agreement they didn’t comply with their side of it – in short, they never paid.

This isn’t the end of the case and you won’t see the Innocent logo disappear from the shelves soon. Innocent (now owned by Coke) has made enough money to pay lawyers to appeal.  However, even if it succeeds it won’t recover most of those costs, management time will have been diverted and business planning disrupted.  Usually big share sales include warranties about the ownership of IPRs.  If the founders gave such warranties that could be costly for them.

Posted 8th May 2013

For advice on Intellectual Property contact Neil Howlett