Thursday, 16 February 2012

A fine mess

In Slater v Wimmer [2012] EWPCC 7 (16 February 2012) the rules about ownership of copyright got into a fine mess. The defendant is (according to Wikipedia) 'a Danish philanthropist, space advocate, entrepreneur, financier, adventurer, author and future space tourist'. I have also seen him described as a Danish celebrity, but as I haven't seen him in The Killing, Borgen or The Bridge, I am discounting that claim. As for being a 'space advocate', I wonder whom he represents? Or is it that he is concerned about the size of new housing (as my two-day-a-week-employers are)?

In his capacity as an adventurer (though presumably also wearing his financier hat, as I am sure these things do not come cheap) he hired a filmmaker to record him, and a few others, sky-diving from Mount Everest. The defendant dived, and the claimant filmed, and in due course the claimant sent the defendant a copy of the film for approval. I imagine he didn't take legal advice (and why should he?) because he seems to have crossed his fingers and hoped to be paid if the film were used.

And indeed it was used, in a programme on Danish TV (so, it's not all dark and gloomy thrillers). The claimant then sent the defendant an invoice. The defendant made clear that he was not inclined to pay, and the claimant uploaded it to YouTube.

The judge (HHJ Birss QC) decided that there was no agreed contract between the parties, so the ownership of copyright fell to be decided under the rules in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. He held that the defendant was the producer, having made the financial arrangements, while the claimant was the director, and they were therefore joint authors of the film and co-owners of the copyright in it. Nothing unexpected there, given that no-one could produce a contract to show otherwise. But it's the upshot of that finding that's really interesting: each had reproduced and communicated to the public a work in which the other owned the copyright, and both therefore infringed.

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