Website Liable When Users Breach Copyright

July 18, 2013

Website Liable When Users Breach Copyright

The Internet is throwing up a number of examples of cases in which information is ‘recycled’ in breach of copyright and a legal action results. In one such case, the court ruled that if the actions of an organisation ‘inevitably’ lead to a breach of the law, even if that breach is unintended, a liability in law can result.

Bookmaker Stan James (SJ) made an arrangement with a Swiss company that SJ would be provided with live information on football matches. The information provided by the Swiss company was a breach of the copyright of the English and Scottish football authorities, which commercialise that information through a company called Football Dataco (FD).

The Swiss company had no legal relationship or agreement with FD and extracted the information without paying for it.

SJ's defence against the claim was based on a denial that the data constituted a ‘database’ and the information contained therein was therefore unworthy of copyright protection.

The Court of Appeal rejected that argument. In its view, the use of the data by SJ made the violation of the copyright of FD inevitable and the liability for the infringement lay with SJ, although in law, each and every person who accessed the information from the SJ website was also in breach of FD’s copyright.

It is often not appreciated that just because someone gives you permission to copy something, that neither gives you the right to do so nor will it indemnify you from a potential claim if the ‘permission’ is given by someone who does not have the right of copyright over the material.

Furthermore, just because something is on the Internet does not make it ‘free to use’.