Photo copying can be expensive!

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The internet is a not a free source of material, as a home improvements company found recently to its cost.

Absolute Lofts South West London Limited v Artisan Home Improvements Limited and another [2015] EWHC 2608 (IPEC).

Both the claimant (Absolute Lofts) and the defendants, Artisan and its sole director-shareholder, were in the business of residential loft conversions. The owner of Absolute Lofts, would occasionally upon completion of a loft conversion, take photographs of the work carried out and display these on Absolute Lofts’ website. It was accepted by both parties that copyright subsisted in these photographs and had been assigned by the owner to Absolute Lofts.

The defendants did not dispute that they had, for a period of time, used 21 of these photographs on Artisan’s website without Absolute Lofts’ consent. Following receipt of a letter before action sent on behalf of Absolute Lofts complaining of Artisan’s unlawful use of the photographs, the photographs were removed from the defendant’s website and replaced with 21 licensed images of loft conversions purchased from a stock photograph library for £300.

The defendants admitted that Artisan had infringed Absolute Lofts’ copyrights and accepted joint liability for such infringements. The issues before the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court were therefore limited to matters of quantum. The claimant sought damages on the “user principle” in addition to damages pursuant to s.97 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) and Article 13 of the Enforcement Directive, together in the sum of over £30,000.

The Court awarded Absolute Lofts damages of £300 in accordance with the "user principle". A further award constituting £6,000 in additional damages and unfair profits was made, making a total payable by the defendants of £6,300.

To summarise, copyright infringement can prove to be a lot more expensive than you might expect. It is therefore vital to ensure that any pictures or other material you have on your website or other marketing materials are your own copyright or are there with a proper licensing agreement. Many people assume that because images are easily available online, that they are free to use, but that is not always the case.

For further information on intellectual property rights, please contact Rina Sond in our Company Commercial team.