Copyright Law


Robert Martin, our legal specialist, has over twenty four years experience of practical copyright law – a knowledge not gained from text books, but during the course of a series of high profile legal actions.  Over this period of time he has built up a network of key business partners in the legal, financial and entertainment industry and he is able to advise on all aspects of this particular field.

Copyright law is complicated and there are a large number of areas where proper advice can greatly benefit the client and assist in the proper maximization of the financial benefit of the client’s work – whether it be music, publishing or artistic works.

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Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Robert’s book on the subject “Copyright Law In Practice – four case studies”

The concept of an author/writer/artist being associated with and credited for his/her written work dates back many centuries. Legal recognition of copyright is much more recent and the entitlement to remuneration for ownership is much more recent still. The reason for this is very simple – there was no need or demand. Aristotle may have been producing outstanding works of knowledge and writing them down but his works were not exactly mass produced or widely read. God probably thought that on the seventh day, the day after creating man, that he should invent copyright law, commission various writers and live off the Royalties from the Bible.  It was not until the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century that a form of copyright protection came into play. Prior to this the copying of a manuscript was painstakingly slow and was limited to copying religious works for orders and the royal courts of Europe. The vast proportion of the population was illiterate in any event. To confuse those who could read the copies were written in Latin.

I am writing this on my PC and am listening to a CD. I am creating copyright and I am surrounded by it at the same time. From the operating system which I am using to the music in my ears. I am not using a bootleg or an illegal programme. Both have been bought and paid for and somehow money will filter back to the person who wrote the music or wrote the programme through a very complicated mechanism via a multi faceted multi billion £ industry.

The Licensing Act 1662 brought about an act to establish a register of licensed books, along with the requirement to deposit a copy of the book to be licensed.

The Statute of Anne 1709, which passed into Law on 10th April 1710, was the first to grant the protection of an Act of Parliament for copyright in books and other writings. Prior to this, disputes over the rights to the publishing of books could be enforced by common law. It also introduced the principle of a fixed term of protection.

The International Copyright Act 1886 and the Berne Convention. In 1885 a Royal Commission suggested that the present Acts should be improved and codified.

The Copyright Act 1911 brought provisions on copyright into one Act for the first time by revising and repealing most earlier Acts.

The Universal Copyright Convention, one of the principal international conventions protecting copyright, was adopted in Geneva in 1952.

The Copyright Act 1956 acknowledged further amendment to the Berne Convention and the UK’s accession to the Universal Copyright Convention.

The Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988 is the UK’s current copyright act and it has been amended by various EC directive and other legislation since it came into force.

The Statute of Anne 1709 is of interest for a number of reasons – statutory recognition, a fixed term for the duration of copyright and, in the 65 years or so from its enactment for the extension of  protection to printed music. In 1777 the case of Bach –v- Longman, initiated by two composers, Johann Christian Bach and Karl Freidrich Abel concerned whether printed music fell into the protection of the 1709 Statute. Lord Mansfiled adjudged that published music was indeed protected as ‘writing’ within the terms of the legislation.

In the years preceding the 1709 Act it was initially thought that little was to be gained by the music publishers in joining with the rest of the book trade in lobbying for statutory protection for their published material. Books were considered ‘worthy’ of protection. By contrast peoples taste in music was considered to be ‘fickle’. Maintaining a ‘back catalogue’ of printed music was much less relevant to music publishers.

In fact “music publishers appear to have been hostile to music copyright” and there were powerful interests at play. For example the music publisher John Walsh (1665-1736) (who would later establish a very successful working relationship with Georg Frederic Handel (1685-1759) began publishing music in 1695, the year in which the Licensing Act 1662 lapsed; he very quickly managed to establish a business which has since been described as “one of the greatest in music publishing history”. For his success he relied on the production of quick and cheap reprints of material first printed by other publishers. In fact copyright was perceived to be a very real obstacle in establishing an otherwise financially viable publishing career.

But the interests of the publisher were at variance to the interest of the composer and the musician who took active steps to secure copyright protection for the works they composed culminating in the 1777 Bach –v- Longman action.

And so the first ‘recordings’ were at first legally recognised as ‘books’. An interpretation of statute, legally argued and many of the principles and motivators apply equally today as 250 years ago. A good example of the Beatles lyric ‘nothing you can do that’s not been done’.

Just as well, perhaps as it would take another 100 years before the first audio format was devised with the invention of the phonographic cylinder with its “hill and dale” grooves and vertical stylus motion.

From 1877 to the present day there have been almost 50 different recognised audio formats, the highlights being 1895 – the gramophone record, 1925 Reel to Reel Magnetic Tape, 1948 – the vinyl record, 1957 – the stereophonic Vinyl record, 1965 – the Eight Track; 1969 the minicassette; 1975 Betamax Digital Audio (the pioneering digital format).

In later years we have had a range of new innovations competing for market space – the most enduring of which is undoubtedly the CD, through High Definition Compatible Digital, MiniDisc, DVD, Dual Disc, Blu-ray to the Pono (2003).  So from Aristotle to the printing press and from page to Pono I have had the privilege to consider all of these issues in the context of the Irish Music Industry in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s in the Courtroom.


“The information you have shared is so easily understood so thanks for directing it for me. If I am ever lucky enough to be signing any sort of contract for my music I would certainly appreciate your guidance.”

Niamh McGlinchey

“In all the years my husband and I were involved in litigation, you had the sharpest, cleverest legal brain of the lot.”

Ruth McNeill

“When we got Donnell Deeny involved along with a solicitor called Robert Martin, things really started to accelerate.”

Quote from ‘Tall Tales – the Official Biography of Horslips


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