Judge says taking similar-looking photos is piracy

This is getting more and more ridiculous by the day. Do these people have any connection to reality?

by Chris Cheesman

rights watch placard

Photographers who compose a picture in a similar way to an existing image risk copyright infringement, lawyers have warned following the first court ruling of its kind.

UK souvenir maker Temple Island Collection Ltd has won a ruling against New English Teas which it had accused of breaching copyright by using a photo of a London buson its packaging.

Welcoming the news, Temple Island Collection’s managing director Justin Fielder – who shot the image in August 2005 and then manipulated it using Photoshop – said: ‘As creator of the Red Bus image, and originators of the product concept, we gave New England Teas the opportunity to license with us and work collaboratively, but this was declined.’

The case, heard at the Patents County Court in London on 12 January, could have serious implications for photographers, according to photographic copyright expert Charles Swan, a lawyer at Swan Turton, who said: ‘His honour Judge Birss QC decided that a photograph of a red London bus against a black and white background of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, with a blank sky, was similar enough to another photograph of the same subject matter to infringe copyright.’

He added: ‘The decision is perhaps surprising, given the commonplace subject matter ofthe photographs. The judge himself admitted that he found it a difficult question, but in the end he decided that a substantial part of photograph one [Temple Island’s image] had been reproduced in photograph two [New English Teas’].’

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Swan warned: ‘The Temple Island case is likely to herald more claims of this kind. The judgement should be studied by anyone imitating an existing photograph or commissioning a photograph based on a similar photograph.

‘“Inspiration’ and “reference” are fine in themselves, but there is a line between copying ideas and copying the original expression of ideas which is often a difficult one to draw.’

Though, in the past, the cost of such court actions has made them ‘uneconomic to pursue’ this is all about to change, added Swan. ‘The UK government has accepted a recommendation in the Hargreaves Report that the Patents County Court… should operate a small claims procedure for intellectual property claims under £5,000.’

Though the images are not identical, the judge ruled that Fielder’s composition of the image, to include such features as the ‘visual contrast’ of the bright red bus and monochrome background, were the photographer’s ‘intellectual creation’.

Philip Partington, an intellectual property expert at law firm McDaniel & Co, added: ‘The action for copyright infringement was the second made by Temple Island Collection against New English Teas.

‘Action was first taken in 2010, on discovering a range of products by New English Teas showing a red bus design, which Temple Island Collection and their lawyers felt was a copy of their famous image.’

In a further possible twist, Nicholas Houghton, the owner of New English Teas which is based in Coventry, told Amateur Photographer on 25 January that the legal process was ongoing. ‘We can’t comment I’m afraid,’ he said.

In a follow-up phone call, the firm declined to say whether it plans to appeal the decision and refused to discuss the matter further.

The two images can be seen HERE

The full judgement can be read HERE



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