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Are we legally allowed to "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON"?

In my precious spare time outwith work and parenthood, I allow myself some creativity in the form of painting. I won't be exhibiting any time soon, but it's a welcome change from Board Minutes, AGMs and (at home) the endless search for clean school sports kit!

Recently, in the midst of a happy time creating, I came across an interesting question which illustrates that there's no escaping 'The Law'. No, not the boys in blue (my paintings are really not that risqué) but the influence of all things legal, even in day to day life.

Luckily, I have a go-to for such questions. In fact here at Morton Fraser we really do have someone in almost every field who can help - so we can be that "go-to" for anyone.

My painting included a quote from the naturalist and philosopher John Muir, born in Dunbar, East Lothian in 1838. I suddenly worried - was I actually allowed to use his quote in my work, even though I'd attributed it to him? How do companies selling coasters could use extracts of Shakespeare's work? And how can the wartime "Keep Calm and Carry On" quote be reproduced on posters, mugs and keyrings? I downed tools and thought I'd better check….

Julie Nixon, our Intellectual Property specialist, was happy to provide me with some brief and perfectly pitched basic copyright advice:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work are covered by copyright;
  • Patents apply to inventions;
  • Names, slogans and phrases may be protected by a Trade mark;
  • Copyright, like any asset, can be inherited;
  • Copyright does expire;
  • How long does it last? This depends on the work and nationality, but typically it's protected for 70 years, either from the death of the author, or from the date of first publication;
  • At that point, the work falls into the public domain, and can be used by anyone else; and
  • If the work is still protected by copyright, users can pay in order to be licensed to use that work.

So, I was safe. John Muir died on 24 December 1914, leaving us a wealth of his philosophy and quotes to enjoy. I could continue painting!

This is a break from my usual area of Company Secretarial blogging, but for advice on Intellectual Property or Company Secretarial issues, please contact Julie or me. Please also refer to our web site and the Design for Life section for all our other areas of expertise.