I'm preparing some briefing notes on various open licences and I'm looking for some clarification on legal aspects of standard practice in the UK. (If there is a better SE site for this question feel free to move it.)

Let us say a novelist has a book published in the UK, and the book is later scanned and distributed for free on the internet by a malicious third party. What UK laws have been broken? I mean, one can certainly see how it would be hurtful and damaging to the industry, but I'm interested to know which specific laws have been broken - is it exactly the same as for, say, music and film, or is it covered separately?

PS I'm asking specifically for UK law here, but I'm sure that answers dealing with US law will be informative and interesting; I'd like to see them, they just won't help much with the problem I have...


I believe the most relevant law is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/contents

Terms are defined in Part I, Chapter 2. Section 17 (2) defines infringement by copying for literary works:

Copying in relation to a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work means reproducing the work in any material form.This includes storing the work in any medium by electronic means.

That would be the scanning part. As for distribution via the internet, Section 20 (2) (b) includes in 'infringement by communication to the public':

the making available to the public of the work by electronic transmission in such a way that members of the public may access it from a place and at a time individually chosen by them.]

Caveat: IANAL.


IANAL: Are you looking at English law because you are English yourself and are attempting to settle a domestic concern, or are you looking to English law because that's where the document was published even though you are, say, Canadian? If it's the former, micapam's answer is exactly on point. If it's latter, then you need to look internationally.

While there isn't any such thing as international copyright law, there are a couple of relevant treaties covering the matter: the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). The U.S. and England are both signatories, I'm not sure about ratification. The UCC requires use of the encircled c we've all seen. The Berne convention doesn't require any copyright notification at all (U.S. copyright requirements are specifically tailored to match the Berne requirements).

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