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Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The Annual Legal Notice

 This Is From HM Intellectual Properties Office THE official last word in such matters. I do hope that a certain trouble making little nark takes note.  IPC and Egmont tell me that they agree with this and stand by the legislation.

So if you were a company just purchased a whole lot of material from, say, IPC, hopefully you also got the written permission of the creators -artists and writers or you just have a lot of out of copyright material.

Dry. Boring but then, it can't all be The Mighty Crusaders!

Subject: UK Comic Book copyright query

I was wondering whether you could help me re. the above matter.  I am a comics historian/publisher and have, obviously, studied the UK industry for over thirty years now.
Contracts were never signed between creators and comic publishing house such as Fleetway, IPC, Odhams, etc.  The companies changed hands many times over the years with no new deals with creators.  In fact (c) was not even given on many titles.

I was put in contact with a solicitor last year and he sent me the following;

"UK Copyright

Someone was asking what the legal position is in the UK.

The writer and artist own the copyright in the strip jointly, under the Copyright Act 1956 (or the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 in the case of more recent comics), unless there has been a written transfer of their copyright ownership to a third person (such as the Publisher).

This is called Author's copyright. It lasts for the lifetime of the writer and artist, and thereafter for a period of 70 years from the end ofthe year in which the last survivor of them dies.
Each strip within an issue of a comic is thus the copyright property of different people: i.e. the writer and artist who created that particular strip; and so a lot of individuals will have copyright interests in each weekly edition.

 The Publisher has a separate copyright (called Publisher's copyright),which protects the entire published issue of a comic, including its overall typographical layout, not just individual strips within it. This lasts for 25 years from the end of the year in which that issue of the comic was originally published.

This second type of copyright has now expired for any comic with a cover date on or before 31st December 1984.

I was wondering whether you could tell me whether this is correct? The problem is that many now retired creators are wondering where they stand -most get the same (above) responses from solicitors as I had.

Any help in clarification would be very helpful.

My thanks in advance
Terry Hooper


Dear Mr Hooper,
Thank you for your recent enquiry. Although we are unable to provide legal advice regarding specific cases, I hope the following general information is of use to you.

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, in the case of written (including software and databases) theatrical, musical or artistic (including photographic) works, the author or creator of the work is also the first owner of any copyright in it.  The only exception to this is where the work is made by an employee in the course of his or her employment. In some situations two or more people may be joint authors and joint owners of copyright (as may be the case for instance with a comic strip).

Where a written, theatrical, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work (subject to any agreement to the contrary).  'In the course of employment' is not defined by the Act but in settling disputes the courts have typically had to decide whether the employee was working under 'contract of service'.

Where a person works under a 'contract for services' he may be considered by the courts to be an independent contractor and his works may then be considered to be commissioned works.  When you ask or commission another person or organisation to create a copyright work for you, the first legal owner of copyright is the person or organisation that created the work and not you the commissioner, unless you otherwise agree it in writing.

Even though the legal owner of copyright is the creator, it is possible that the commissioner may be considered by the courts to be the beneficial owner of copyright and therefore entitled to legal ownership.  This could be where you intend to stop others using or copying the work that has been commissioned for instance a logo designed to be used as your trade mark.

I outline these points since you mention the absence of a formal 'signed' contractual agreement between the creators and comic publishing houses.  In the event of a dispute as to ownership it would therefore be for the courts to decide ownership and/or the nature of the ownership (it may be that there are joint creators [writer and artist] and they may or may not have some rights in the work along with the publisher). Each situation must therefore be considered on its merits.

I would suggest the situation is less clear under the Copyright Act 1956 and you may wish to seek further legal clarification of Section 4 and in particular section 4.(2) in order to ascertain whether this situation could apply to comics.  This section seems to limit the ownership of a work by an employer to the publication in his/her newspaper, periodical or magazine and beyond that the creator would be entitled to any copyright subsisting in the literary, dramatic or artistic work.

In relation to a publisher's rights I was confused as to the 1984 date in relation to typographical arrangement (25 years from publication) but then noticed that you sought this advice last year.  The publisher may also have copyright in the 'compendium' of strips which he has produced as a comic.  His copyright [as well as the individual creators in the absence of any assignment to him] could therefore be infringed if the whole or a substantial part of the comic is reproduced without his permission.

It should be remembered that irrespective of whether the creator or another party own the copyright, then provided the creator died less than 70 years ago the work is still likely to be protected.  This will also be the case in relation to publishers etc where the duration of copyright protection is calculated from death of the employee creator.  Again, where a company changed hands or was bought it would be necessary to consider who then owned the intellectual property rights.  Under both the 1956 [s36(3)] and 1988 [s90(3)] Acts an assignment of copyright is not effective 'unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor'.  Each situation should then again be taken on its merits.

I hope this helps. I should emphasise that this information does not represent legal advice but rather seeks to assist you on what issues you might seek further legal clarification. 
I hope this response has been some help to you.

Copyright Enquiries

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