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BUSINESS: Inspiration and Copyright by Tatiana Hitchen


One of the trickiest disputes in copyright is whether a work is truly original or if it has appropriated elements from another work. In cases where a work has been wholly replicated, the infringement is obvious. But what of works which are reminiscent, evocative, or alleged to be “inspired” by another?


The law doubtless struggles with these disputes because the subject itself is a grey area, but judges have nonetheless attempted to mark out the boundaries.


The central tenet of copyright law is that copyright exists in the expression of ideas and not the ideas themselves. Consequently, the complete reproduction of a novel will infringe copyright, but recycling


72 | ukhandmade | Spring 2011


an author’s plot, or elements of a plot, is perfectly legal. This invariably comes as some surprise to copyright neophytes. Further, if it can be said that a work represents a similar idea to that depicted in another work - alienation, brutality, love, peace - then there will be no breach.


However, problems arise up when those works express similar ideas in a similar manner, such that there are identifiable elements common to both works. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 states that “copying a substantial part or another work, without permission, constitutes a breach of copyright rights”.


What counts as substantial may seem to involve drawing an arbitrary


line - how would one say that one more word, or note, or element of a pattern can move something from one category to another? The problem was formalised in ancient times as the Sorites Paradox - one grain of sand is not a heap, two grains of sand does not make a heap, so three grains of sand is not a heap, etc until a million grains of sand is not a heap.


The Courts have dodged this paradox and have rejected the proposition that “substantial part” can be defined according to the amount of the original work that is taken, pithily stating that it is a question of quality, not quantity. There is no rule that taking 60% of a painting or design is more likely to be an infringement than 30%. The key is whether a


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