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Digital copyright law is a legal labyrinth

Businesses have been warned that they could find themselves in a legal labyrinth when trying to stop a copyright thief who has...

Businesses have been warned that they could find themselves in a legal labyrinth when trying to stop a copyright thief who has illegally reproduced and circulated their digital material via the Internet.

Solicitor Mark Hyland warned the Crime 2001 conference of the ambiguities and contradictions among international laws governing which courts have jurisdiction over Internet copyright cases.

The world's premier copyright convention, the Bern Convention, for instance, says that copyright law should "be governed exclusively by the law where protection is claimed".

But lawyers have interpreted this as either meaning the country where the material was illicitly copied, or where the copyright holder chooses to launch legal proceedings, which could be in a different country.

Digital material that companies may want to exploit could include confidential documents, designs, music, artwork and fiction.

Another element of confusion is introduced by the 1968 Brussels Convention. This aims to guide European countries on which jurisdiction applies in international civil disputes.

Article 5 (3) of the Brussels Convention says that a court in the country where a 'harmful event' occurred, could hear a case. But lawyers have argued that with copyright abuses, the harm is actually suffered in the home state of the victim, so it is in that country that a civil case should be launched.

This was first published in January 2001

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