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John Newbigin

Intellectual property and how it can be protected

There are several different ways in which a creator can protect, licence or share their rights.

COPYRIGHT protects an individual’s ownership of their creativity when it is expressed through writing, or sound or film. It means that during the author’s lifetime nobody can use what he or she has created without permission or without acknowledging who created it and paying for the right to use it. Copyright can also extend that protection beyond an author’s lifetime. The length of this protection varies according to the laws of each country. In the UK copyright extends for 70 years after the author’s death.

PATENTS give the inventors of products or processes the exclusive rights to use and exploit their invention for a specified period of time. Unlike copyright, which is automatic, anyone who applies for a patent must be able to prove that their product or process really is unique or innovative.

TRADE MARKS protect the use of a name or symbol, for example the logo of a particular company or brand. They are designed to stop forgers and to prevent fraudsters and imitators from selling goods or services in someone else’s name.

CREATIVE COMMONS LICENCES allow an author or creator to signal the kind of rights they are happy to give away and those they want to keep. Conventional copyright normally reserves “all rights” for the author or creator. Creative Commons licenses allow authors to give others more flexibility in using their work so, in the words of Professor Laurence Lessig, the inventor of Creative Commons licensing, it “supports a remix or participatory culture”.

OPEN SOURCE. If content or software programmes are “open source” it means they are available to the general public to use and modify in whatever way they feel appropriate. Open source code is usually created by programmers and creative people working collaboratively to develop and improve code that is independent of the software owned and licenced by big corporations such as Microsoft. The Open Source Initiative is a certification system that makes it clear that a particular software programme is free for the general public to use, and usually also indicates that it is free of bugs. The Webopedia entry on open source adds, “The concept relies on peer review to find and eliminate bugs in the programme code, a process which commercially developed and packaged programmes do not utilise”.

John Newbigin