Copyright protection in Letterheads

Also under the fair dealing exceptions, if the copying is purely for research the courts will look at the economic impact of the use of the copyright material on the copyright owner. Where the economic impact is not significant, the use may count as fair dealing.

Essentially, it is for the courts to decide whether unauthorised use of copyright material is fair dealing. However, looking at previous court decisions, if the book is simply researching and reviewing letter heads and intended for library selves, this use should fall within the defense of fair dealing.


Letterheads are protected by copyright as they are an expression of creative ability. The rights are automatic and arise before the ink is dry on the paper. The letterheads would be classed as artistic work under 4 (1) Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and are protected irrespective of artistic quality. Even though a letterhead may only consist of letters it is the design and layout of those letters which would make it artistic. A title or an advertising jingle will not usually be protected by copyright under literary works.Â

The initial copyright is owned by the author or co authors. Copyright protection for artistic work has the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years from the year end after his death regardless of whether the rights have been assigned. If the copyright vests in the employer because the author was an employee at the time of creation, the duration of the employer’s copyright is the employee’s life plus 70 years.Â

The basic term for copyright used to be 50 years. A European directive on copyright duration increased it to 70 years which not only extended the life of copyright work but also revived lapsed copyright if the work was still in copyright 01 July 1995. If the work is of unknown authorship the period of 70 years runs from the year of creation or the year of first publication, whichever is the later. If a work has been commissioned the copyright rests with the author and not with the person who commissioned the work. However it could be implied that the copyright rests with the person who commissioned the work. Copyright protection gives the owner the control over the ways in which their material may be used. The rights cover copying, adapting, publishing, renting and lending copies to the public. If a person, without the consent of the copyright owner, carries out or causes or requires another party to carry out any of the above acts, that person will infringe the copyright of the work in question. Such infringement is referred to as “primary infringement”, and does not require proof of guilt in the infringer’s mind.

Fair dealing exceptions

Criticism and review

There are exceptions to copyright protection. One of these exceptions is criticism, review and news reporting. As you are publishing these letter heads for review copying of them may be exempt from copyright protection. If you wish to comment on a letter head, say, on the quality or design, the fair dealing exception will allow copied letter heads to be used without the authors permission. Whether or not your book would fall into the category of review would be for a court to decide.

Research or private study If the book is for non-commercial purposes and is intended specifically for library shelves and not for sale, research or private study there is a further exception to copyright protection.

Fair dealing has been interpreted by the courts on a number of occasions by looking at the economic impact of the use of the copyright material on the copyright owner. Where the economic impact is not significant, the use may count as fair dealing. Fair dealing does not infringe any copyright in the work, provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, usually bibliographical details.Â

Michael Coyle

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