14 December 2018

The Holly and the IP

Now the festive season is in full force, what better way to reflect on the world of IP (Intellectual Property) than with a Christmassy blog article!

Protection of your IP is not just for Christmas and whilst snow may not be falling all around us, IP certainly is everywhere!

You may be the kind of person that is organised and already has their Christmas shopping bought and wrapped, or you might prefer the thrill of running around frantically looking for gifts on Christmas Eve. Whichever type of Christmas shopper you are you cannot escape the power of branding. Brands such as Nike, Beats by Dre, Ralph Lauren and Apple are so well known they can simply use a letter, symbol or image on their products and at Christmas, probably more than any other time of the year, the pressure to buy branded products is immense, even though cheaper products that are of the same (or better) quality are available.

It’s not just in the shops that we are bombarded by brands, at Christmas our television screens are filled with advertisements, some of which we eagerly anticipate such as those by Coca Cola and John Lewis (the Coca Cola truck even goes on tour around the country!). All these well-known brands have registered trade marks in place to prevent infringers copying their name, products etc. and some brands, such as Disney, licence these IP assets to other retailers such as Primark and Pandora (I would imagine for a tidy sum).

At this time of year it’s time to get the Christmas playlist sorted so you can feel festive whilst decorating the tree or making your mince pies.

There has been a lot of press coverage of copyright battles between singers this year (mostly involving Ed Sheeran) and we are currently awaiting the new EU Copyright Directive to be approved, but where do we stand – are we unknowingly infringing an artist’s copyright?

In the UK copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies (this can be more in other countries), this means many of our favourite songs are still protected by copyright, for example, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas”. From our perspective this means we must be careful if we want to perform Christmas songs in public as we may need a licence (if you’re not a fan of carol singers and you hear them start to veer away from traditional carols, to singing “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Claus is coming to Town”, you could always halt them mid-flow and ask if they have an appropriate licence in place!).

If playing music in your own home, as long as you have purchased/streamed the songs legally, all is well as the artist/artist’s estate will receive royalties through your purchases. Shops should pay a licence fee to providers such as PRS for Music and, as Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without mentioning Michael Bublé, he will also have licences in place for his annual festive album and concerts.

Other songs are ‘in the public domain’ and can be performed anywhere by anyone, examples include: “Jingle Bells”, “Silent Night” and (to the relief of primary schools across the country) “Away in a Manger”.

Finally, picture the scene on Christmas day, your dining table filled with a delicious feast, everyone is seated so it’s time to pull the crackers!

In the mid-1800s Mr Tom Smith invented the cracker and could have ensured he set up a lucrative licensing arrangement if he had sought to patent his idea (cue the noise a cracker makes when the explosive element doesn’t work), mind you, with all his royal warrants I’m sure he did alright for himself!

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About the Author
Emma Kirkpatrick, CITMA Paralegal & Trainee Trade Mark Attorney
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