IP lawyer speaks out against political ad tactics which flout IP laws

Much of the election advertising has been good fun, but a leading IP lawyer has told The Drum that the political parties are setting a potentially dangerous precedent.

Speaking in a week that has seen the BNP hauled over the coals for using an image of Marmite in one of its TV broadcasts and recently David Cameron was portrayed as Gene Hunt from BBC TV series Ashes To Ashes in a Labour campaign poster, Rob Hawley, a partner at Mathys & Squire LLP, has warned that marketers who follow suit and mimic the intellectual property of other companies could face serious consequences.

IP law specialist Hawley said: "It’s all been good fun to watch from the sidelines, but the parties could be leaving themselves wide open to a whole range of problems. In general terms, if they are using any images that they have not created themselves, without the permission of the copyright owner, they could face infringement action. Unilver plc has already threatened the BNP with legal action following the use of its Marmite brand in a party broadcast – no doubt based as much upon not wishing to be associated with the controversial organisation, as upon the perceived infringement of its copyright.

"The way in which the election campaigns have developed acknowledges that these days it is not unknown for the marketing of one brand to be imitated or subverted by a competitor or even an admirer! This might be done with the best of intentions, and may be very creative and amusing for audiences, but IP rights carry as much weight in the fast-moving digital universe as in the real world.

"Marketers have a responsibility to protect their clients’ reputations, and would be well-advised to obtain permission from the owner of any IP being used in that campaign. While the political parties are likely to face nothing worse than some public embarrassment, a campaign that causes real damage to an owner of IP rights could find itself the subject of costly legal action – a high price to pay for a dig at a rival."

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