Style the Clincher in Copyright Case

June 25, 2012

Style the Clincher in Copyright Case

There is a common belief that because something can be viewed on or copied from the Internet, it is free for anyone to use. This is not the case. Nor is it the case that making use of someone else’s work and transforming it into something that seems ‘different’ will not breach copyright. A recent case illustrates this point.

It involved a stylised picture of a red London ‘Routemaster’ Bus set against a grey background including the Houses of Parliament. The image was used widely by its creators. It was also widely licensed to other firms.

A second firm liked the general style and took its own photographs, attempting to make a similar picture that would not infringe the copyright in the original. The image was quite different from the original in many respects but had the same general style and included the red bus and grey background depicting the Houses of Parliament.

The owner of the original image claimed that the second image was a breach of its copyright and took its claim to court.

In giving his judgment, His Honour Judge Birss QC said, “The relevant point in this case seems to me to be that the composition of a photograph is capable of being a source of originality…the issue turns on a qualitative assessment of the reproduced elements. The elements which have been reproduced are a substantial part of the claimant’s work because, despite the absence of some important compositional elements, they still include the key combination of what I have called the visual contrast features with the basic composition of the scene itself.”

The second image was therefore a breach of copyright, despite being clearly different from the original, because it made use of a substantial amount of the claimant’s artistic work.