Signature in Media Law

Copyright in signatures

An individual’s signature may be protected under copyright law as an artistic work. If so, the unauthorised reproduction of the signature will infringe copyright. The name itself will not be protected by copyright; it is the appearance of the signature which is protected.

It should be remembered that copyright only subsists in works which are the product of skill, judgment and labour. An everyday signature of a rudimentary nature is unlikely to satisfy these requirements. Similarly, if the name were written in a simple form, say, in block capitals, the reproduction would not infringe copyright. The more elaborate the signature, the more likely that it will be protected by copyright.

Copyright in a name

It is well established under copyright law that copyright does not exist in a name. For example, in the 1869 Privy Council case of Du Boulay v Du Boulay,11 the court observed that:

... in this country we do not recognise the absolute right of a person to a particular name to the extent of entitling him to prevent the assumption of that name by a stranger.

This is so whether the name in question is the name of a living individual or an invented word for a fictional character. The name of the fictional character ‘Kojak’12 has been refused copyright protection under English copyright law, as has the real life surname of Burberry.

Signatures

Signatures may be registrable as trade marks provided that they are sufficiently distinctive. If a distinctive signature is registered, it will usually be accompanied by a disclaimer stating that nothing in the registration will give exclusive rights in the actual words making up the name except if they are in substantially the script shown.

The owner of a trade mark has exclusive rights in the trade mark, which are infringed by the use of the trade mark without his consent. What amounts to use for the purposes of infringement?

The Trade Marks Act 1994 Act refers to use as being, in particular:

  • affixing the sign to goods or packaging;
  • offering goods for sale or offering or supplying services under the sign;
  • importing or exporting goods under the sign;
  • using the sign in business papers or advertising.

Those involved in the preparation of infringing material will be treated as infringers if they know or have reason to believe that the use of the mark is not authorised by the mark’s owner. Use has to be in the course of trade to constitute an infringement.

What amounts to infringement?

The following unauthorised acts amount to infringement:

  • use of a sign which is identical to the trade mark in relation to goods and services which are identical with those for which it is registered (s 10(1) of the Act);
  • use of a sign which is identical to the trade mark in relation to goods and services which are similar to those for which it is registered so that there is a likelihood of confusion or association on the part of the public (s 10(2) of the Act);
  • use of a sign which is similar to the trade mark in relation to goods and services which are identical to those for which it is registered so that there is a likelihood of confusion or association on the part of the public (s 10(2) of the Act);
  • use of a sign which is identical or similar to the trade mark in relation to goods or services which are not similar to the goods and services for which it is registered where the mark has a reputation in the UK and the use of the sign being without due cause takes unfair advantage of or is detrimental to the distinctive character or the repute of the trade mark (s 10(3) of the Act).

Section 11(2) of the Act provides that a registered trade mark is not infringed by:

... the use by a person of his own name or address provided the use is in accordance with honest practice in industrial or commercial matters.

So, even if a name is registered as a trade mark, anyone else sharing that name would not infringe the registered mark if they used their name in the course of trade, provided that they did so in an honest manner.

VAT

All moneys due under the terms of this Agreement are exclusive of any VAT due thereupon. The Publishers operate a self-billing system for the payment of royalties and to account for Value Added Tax. The Publishers, therefore, require details of the Author’s VAT registration number where applicable which shall be supplied upon signature of this Agreement. Should the Author fail to supply a VAT registration number, the Publishers shall not pay VAT on any sums due under the terms of this Agreement.

Copyright in signatures

An individual’s signature may be protected under copyright law as an artistic work. If so, the unauthorised reproduction of the signature will infringe copyright. The name itself will not be protected by copyright; it is the appearance of the signature which is protected.


Spilsbury, S. (2000). Media law. 1st ed. London: Cavendish Publishing.