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The law of Copyright explained for estate agents

publication date: Nov 15, 2007
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The Theft Act 1968 defines theft as an act by a party who

‘dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it’.

The word ‘property’ is misleading, as it is just as possible to steal an idea or information from someone, as it is a physical object. They are classed as ‘intellectual property’ (IP), and divided into 4 categories; copyright, design, patents and trademarks. Use any of these without the owner’s permission and their rights have been violated. Legal action can follow and may result in financial penalties, and adverse publicity. We’ll see shortly how critical this is for property professionals.

Copyright, in particular has become a major issue as technology and the internet become ever more sophisticated. Copy, distribute, record or reproduce another party’s ideas or information, without consent, and there is a breach of copyright. What isn’t always appreciated is that a piece of work is protected by copyright the moment the author ‘puts pen to paper’. It occurs automatically. It doesn’t even need to be accompanied by the international copyright sign, ©.

Breaching copyright is easy to do unwittingly, even by the most law abiding. Each time we photocopy from a book, or download music, without agreement, we run this risk.

Check the inner leaf of a book or CD and there will probably be a notice informing you of the rules governing their use. When you purchase these items you agree to abide by these obligations.

The property world isn’t immune from this issue. A recent case occurred involving an agent copying a competitor’s property details, without permission and promoting them from their own website. Worse, there have been reports of agents photocopying NAEA Technical Award and Diploma workbooks. There has even been a case of an individual photocopying an entire workbook and attempting to sell ‘bootleg’ copies on ebay!

The owners of this material, a partnership consisting of MOL, NAEA, ARLA and Asset Skills are clear in their response to such matters of theft.

Ruth Lilley, Head of Membership and Professional Development for the NAEA said “Many people believe that simply photocopying a few pages (or more!) from course handouts and study material for examinations is not a breach of copyright. Of course it is and we take such breaches very seriously. It is particularly noticeable when such material is out of date, as it very often tends to be, or of bad quality. The cost of producing good quality up to date study mortars and handouts is much higher than many people realise and so NAEA and ARLA need to ensure that members’ money is used effectively and efficiently. “

MOL who wrote the NAEA Diplomas and Technical Award workbooks take a similar stand. Whether it’s copying these books, or discovering others using their training material they are committed to swift and decisive action.

The Government also view these issues as such a major concern that in 2002 their ‘Copyright etc and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act’ increased copyright penalties, for the worst cases from 2 years imprisonment to 10 years.

With the prospect of a criminal record and imprisonment, why are copyright infringements still so prevalent? The problem lies with public perception. Few consider it acceptable to steal someone’s mobile phone, but they’d be happy recording tracks from a CD or photocopying from a book. The law though makes no distinction. They are all forms of theft, and ignorance is no defence.

It is clear, that with organisations growing ever keener to protect their intellectual property, the property professional will want to stay vigilant. The implications of breaching copyright are so damaging, that staff as well as principals need to be aware of the rules involved to stay lawful.

Further information can be obtained from http://www.ipo.gov. uk/home.htm.