The copyright minefield PART 2

copyright infringement and its consequences

Imagine this scenario. Your lecturer just gave you a huge assignment, and you need Adobe Photoshop to complete it. A friend shares a hyperlink with you to download a pirated version of Photoshop. You think to yourself, “Why not? Saves me a ton of money and everyone else is doing it”, and you download it without further thought. Sounds familiar?

Remember what we said in our previous article, ‘The copyright minefield, part 1’? That any unauthorised copying or downloading of a design, an image, a font or software, without the copyright owners’ consent, amounts to an infringement of the design. As we said, “This infringement will then make the person or company responsible liable to prosecution.”

So what kind of infringements are we talking about, typically? Some of them you will know, but others you might not be aware of, so to spell it all out so you know in future, here is the low down on what infringes other people’s copyright, and is therefore illegal:

Using unlicensed software and fonts
Just as any design or illustration is the creative and intellectual property of the designer or illustrator who created it, computer software and fonts are the intellectual and creative property of those who created them. Since software and fonts are so easy to illegally download and share, the legal and moral issues of using them are often overlooked.

Normally, a licensed copy of a software programme can be installed and used on only one computer at a time, although the purchaser is allowed to make a ‘backup’ copy for archival or disaster-recovery purposes. If the same copy of a single-user programme is installed on several computers, or copied, or even upgrade offers are taken without owning a legal copy of the version to be upgraded, that’s software piracy.

Copyright and patent law prohibits users from uploading, downloading or sharing unauthorised copies of software. Any individual who breaks these laws, or consultancies who look the other way when employees do, are liable to civil and criminal action, which can include fines or even imprisonment. Also, fonts or software should not be shared with anyone who doesn’t have the license to use them. So next time your client asks you to send them that new font you’ve proposed to them without buying it, you know better. What you can do, is to embed the fonts in view-only file formats such as EPS or PDF.

Copying or sharing music
When it comes to music, a simple rule should be constantly kept in mind: if one is to play, perform or record any musical work composed by someone else – or even play a computer music file – for anything other than personal use, without getting permission in writing from the copyright owner, this is illegal. Even computer music files are considered as a form of recording music, and are termed ‘digital sheet music’.

However, if the original composer or copyright owner has been dead for more than 50 years, there will be no need to obtain permission. In such cases, the musical work is considered to be in the public domain. So always exercise caution before illegally downloading and sharing music files.


Illegal use of images
Similarly, all images possess copyright protection as well. The copyright of images is owned either by the creator of that image, or anyone who has bought the copyright to it. So creators who upload images onto the web (especially on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram) should take steps to add watermarks and/or copyright notices to the images.

In the United Kingdom, this has never been more important. Thanks to the Instagram Act passed in 2013, users are able to essentially ‘rip off’ images which are defined as ‘orphaned work’ – works where the particular copyright owner cannot be found or identified after making a ‘diligent search’. So the advent of social media in recent years has altered the dynamics of copyright concerns quite radically.

In any case, the laws governing copyright issues states that copyright protection covers photographs for 70 years after the images were initially published.

So what actually happens when an individual or organisation commits an act of copyright infringement? What precarious consequences lay ahead for the infringer? Important to know, considering the staggeringly high number of copyright infringement cases today.

The consequences of infringement
Let’s take a look at the range of penalties applied not just in Singapore, but in the US and Europe too. In Singapore, the legal punishments applied for copyright infringement include injunctions (whereby the infringer is ordered to cease the infringement), monetary damages (compensation to the copyright owner calculated by the courts) and account of profits (i.e. the copyright infringer has to surrender the profits made via the infringement). The penalties in Europe and America are similar, with a slight difference – committing copyright infringement in the US can lead to imprisonment! Also, extensive efforts in the European Union aimed at harmonising copyright law have also translated into markedly stricter infringement penalties.

To give you some examples, consider the case of the iconic Barbie doll. Back in 2005, the maker of Barbie, Mattel, was sued by a competitor toymaker, MGA Entertainment, for allegedly copying the big-headed and slim-bodied physique of their signature product, the Bratz doll. The legal tussle took a swift turn as Mattel counter-sued MGA for one of their staff having designed the Bratz dolls while still working for Mattel. Finally, the jury ruled against MGA and ordered them to pay Mattel $100 million in compensation, as well as an injunction to keep Bratz dolls off the retail shelves.

Then there was the scuffle between Adidas and Payless back in 1994. The classic three-stripe mark that has become symbolic of Adidas’ apparel came under scrutiny when Payless started selling confusingly similar athletic shoes with two and four stripes. The dispute was taken to court and Payless was made to compensate a whooping $305 million to Adidas.

Finally in Singapore there was a recent case where Odex Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based online distributor of sub-licensed Japanese anime, took action against Singapore home users for illegally downloading Japanese anime between 2007 and 2009. A huge degree of controversy was attached to the whole saga, as many users ended up paying between $3,000 to $5,000 each in compensation, including a child only nine years old.

Protecting everyone’s interest
For all the above reasons, designers should be very careful when it comes to using software, fonts, images or music from anything other than legal sources. Software, fonts, images and music are all created by professionals like us. Illegal use of these things cheats their creators out of a fair reward for their labours, and opens up an illegitimate user to the risk of punitive legal action.

But for professional graphic designers, it is chiefly an issue of integrity. Designers cannot fairly advocate their own intellectual and creative property rights with clients, without respecting the comparable rights of others.

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