IceTV Second Look

IceTV publishes an electronic tv program guide or schedule. The ABC and SBS provide their program schedules, but the commercial free-to-air networks refused. Mr Rilet sat down and watched 3 weeks of Channel 9 programming, writing down the time and title of each program. He then made up a program schedule ‘predicting over’ what would be broadcast. As the broadcast date neared, however, IceTV employees checked up to 3 other program guides and made corrections to the ‘predicted over’ guide as appropriate. (A summary of the changes made to 2 particular days can be found at [179 - 181] of Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ’s reasons.) Mr Rilet and IceTV presumably engaged in the same kind of work for the other commercial networks.

The High Court unanimously held that IceTV’s use of time and title information (‘slivers’ in Bennett J’s evocative phrase at first instance) did not reproduce a substantial part of Nine’s copyright in [one or other programming schedule]. (It is necessary to be a bit vague here since, as in Feist, the alleged infringer mistakenly (as it now turns out) conceded copyright subsistence in something, to the evident frustration of all High Court judges.)

One thing the Court was unanimously agreed upon is that “copyright does not protect facts or information”, it protects forms of expression. See e.g. [28] per French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ and [70] and [102] per Gummow, Hayne, Heydon JJ.

28.   Copyright does not protect facts or information[24]. Copyright protects the particular form of expression of the information, namely the words, figures and symbols in which the pieces of information are expressed[25], and the selection and arrangement of that information[26]. That facts are not protected is a crucial part of the balancing of competing policy considerations in copyright legislation. The information/expression dichotomy, in copyright law, is rooted in considerations of social utility. Copyright, being an exception to the law’s general abhorrence of monopolies[27], does not confer a monopoly on facts or information because to do so would impede the reading public’s access to and use of facts and information. Copyright is not given to reward work distinct from the production of a particular form of expression[28].

The judgments both bear strong indications that Australian copyright law should change track and follow the line pursued by the US Supreme Court in Feist

Both judgments appear to affirm that copyright involves a balancing of the competing interests of creators (and owners) and users or the public.

The fun, or future controversies, begin in what follows.

For French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ, there appears to be a different approach according to whether one is considering questions of originality and substantiality in connection with subsistence of copyright or in connection with infringement.

French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ appear to consider that copyright will subsist so long as what is expressed (in a material form) originates from the author in the sense of not being copied from somewhere else. See [33] and [48].

Their Honours accepted that infringement fell to be tested by ascertaining whether or not the time and title information in IceTV’s guides was a substantial part of the relevant Nine program guide. This required consideration of “the degree of originality of the particular form of expression of the part [taken].” at [52]

Just because the part taken originated from the author did not necessarily make that part a substantial part of the original copyright work – “[o]riginality in the context of infringement has a broader aspect.” at [38].

The time and title information reproduced by IceTV did not require much in the way of mental effort at [42]. Its chronological arrangement was obvious and prosaic at [43].

According to their Honours at [54]:

the critical question is whether skill and labour was directed to the particular form of expression of the time and title information, including its chronological arrangement. The skill and labour devoted by Nine’s employees to programming decisions was not directed to the originality of the particular form of expression of the time and title information. The level of skill and labour required to express the time and title information was minimal[83]. That is not surprising, given that, as explained above, the particular form of expression of the time and title information is essentially dictated by the nature of that information.

That is, the work engaged in by Nine employees in choosing what programs to broadcast and at what times could be excluded from consideration. It was not relevant to the originality of the form of expression. On this approach, it will be necessary to divine at what stage of the process the author(s) actually start engaging in making the work (i.e., expending skill and labour on the form of expression). Therefore, the Full Federal Court’s decision in Milwell v Olympic would appear to have been wrongly decided.

Drawing this line may well prove extremely challenging in practice, although presumably no more difficult than it may be to identify a sufficient spark of creativity or independent intellectual effort if the inquiry arose at the stage of copyright subsistence.

Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ in what is a dense and closely reasoned opinion which is going to require far more consideration and reflection appear to have taken a rather different approach.

That said, their Honours might be thought to have been making a similar point to French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ at [170]:

in assessing the quality of the time and title information, as components of the Weekly Schedule, baldly stated matters of fact or intention are inseparable from and co-extensive with their expression. It is difficult to discern the expression of thought in statements of which programmes will be broadcast and when this will occur. If the facts be divorced from the other elements constituting the compilation in suit, as is the case with the use by IceTV of the time and title information, then it is difficult to treat the IceGuide as the reproduction of a substantial part of the Weekly Schedule in the qualitative sense required by the case law. (emphasis supplied)

The way this is put suggests the importation into Australian law of a merger-like doctrine known to US law.

Similarly, their Honours’ reasons refer in a number of places to the need for there to be “independent intellectual effort” in the creation of the work for it to be an original copyright work. Accordingly, Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ concluded at [152] that:

the Court should accept the submission by Ice that the originality of the compilation being the Weekly Schedule lay not in the provision of time and title information, but in the selection and presentation of that information together with additional programme information and synopses, to produce a composite whole. (emphasis supplied)

There are indications, however, that other considerations are at play.

First, their Honours in a number of places expressly rejected resort to tests such as misappropriation, skill and labour and protection of the interests sought to be protected by copyright as substitutes for the statutory test.

Secondly, at [172] – [183], their Honours expressly affirmed Bennett J’s finding at first instance that IceTV had not in fact copied anything from Nine’s copyright material by writing down time and title information while watching the programs actually being broadcast on tv. This process appears to be similar to the proposition which their Honour’s endorsed at [77] from the Spicer Committee that no-one infringed a football club’s copyright in a list of its players and their numbers by making a list by watching the game.

If that be a correct understanding, the rest of the reasoning would be obiter dicta albeit extremely highly persuasive dicta in Australian courts!

Their Honours devoted considerable space to considering who was the author, or were the authors, of the program schedules. So much so that on the second day of the High Court appeal Nine sought to rely on copyright in yet a different program schedule. This may well have longer term ramifications as their Honours noted at [145]:

to emphasise the difficulties of adapting the provisions of Pt III of the Act to cases such as the present, where multiple works and authors might be identified and the requisite expression of “authorship” of each may be dictated by a specific commercial objective. The point is illustrated sufficiently by contrasting the provisions of the Act and the evidence with the proposition that “the work” was a single work represented in the Nine Database and “first published” upon dissemination to the Aggregators of the Weekly Schedule in “Excel” and “text” format.

Their Honours then went on to refer at [151] to a host of matters that the evidence would need to address to try and make out such a claim and pointedly drew attention to the absence from the Australian Copyright Act of any provision similar to s 9 in the UK’s CDPA 1988 which deems the author of a computer generated work to be the person who made the arrangements necessary for the work to be created. Earlier, at [139], their Honours indicated that IceTV’s alleged appropriation of “the fruits of Nine’s skill and labour” might not be capable of resolution in the absence of legislation such as the EU’s Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases.

Finally, in this quick overview, it is worth noting that Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ sought to deflect over anxious consideration of the impact of Data Access on copyright law. In that case, the majority had endorsed Mason CJ’s rejection of the “but for” test of infringement and recognition that substantiality for the purposes of determining infringement depended on the originality of the part taken. According to Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ at [159], however, Data Access is concerned with the special problems arising from the extension of copyright protection to computer programs and the consequent protection of functionality in that particular context.

IceTV Pty Ltd v Nine Network Australia Pty Ltd [2009] HCA 14

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  • Kathy Bowrey

    The focus on the question of authorship and linking it to material form is really welcome as a way of trying to provide some definition to the rights being claimed by owners. Although once you go into this it tends to expose the dodgy way this has been dealt with in other cases. eg. Sega v Galaxy [1996] FCA 761 (graphic designers visualising a “film” programmed later by others in the production); the Spandau Ballet case- Hadley v Kemp (1999) EMLR 589 (hearing music in your head first means you own the musical work when later expressed by the band). It is really messy.
    In terms of infringement French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ’s focus on originality echoes the way the copyright attacked this issue in the UK 19th century when we had fair use (which was referred to in part of the amicus brief). I think this development is necessary to enable any discussion of balance in infringement, and it is what we have lost over the 20th century. But they all carefully avoided opening up much debate about precedents.
    The suggestion that Desktop is “misunderstood”. Come on !!!….

    • http://ipwars.com war

      Thanks, Kathy.

      It is very interesting that French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ did not pursue the “authorship” line.

      Maybe Desktop falls into the same category as Time Out about which, rather confusingly (for those of us who aren’t High Court judges), Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ appear both to endorse and distinguish at [172], albeit in a section of their reasons that doesn’t appear to relate directly to “substantiality” if we can take at face value the attempts to slap down the “what is worth copying is worth protecting” rubric.

  • Kathy Bowrey

    The focus on the question of authorship and linking it to material form is really welcome as a way of trying to provide some definition to the rights being claimed by owners. Although once you go into this it tends to expose the dodgy way this has been dealt with in other cases. eg. Sega v Galaxy [1996] FCA 761 (graphic designers visualising a “film” programmed later by others in the production); the Spandau Ballet case- Hadley v Kemp (1999) EMLR 589 (hearing music in your head first means you own the musical work when later expressed by the band). It is really messy.
    In terms of infringement French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ’s focus on originality echoes the way the copyright attacked this issue in the UK 19th century when we had fair use (which was referred to in part of the amicus brief). I think this development is necessary to enable any discussion of balance in infringement, and it is what we have lost over the 20th century. But they all carefully avoided opening up much debate about precedents.
    The suggestion that Desktop is “misunderstood”. Come on !!!….

    • http://ipwars.com war

      Thanks, Kathy.

      It is very interesting that French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ did not pursue the “authorship” line.

      Maybe Desktop falls into the same category as Time Out about which, rather confusingly (for those of us who aren’t High Court judges), Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ appear both to endorse and distinguish at [172], albeit in a section of their reasons that doesn’t appear to relate directly to “substantiality” if we can take at face value the attempts to slap down the “what is worth copying is worth protecting” rubric.

  • Kathy Bowrey

    I think French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ also endorse an authorship line albeit more abstractly at [22- 28] esp [26]:
    ” Whilst judicial and academic writers may differ on the precise nature of the balance struck in copyright legislation in different places, there can be no doubt that copyright is given in respect of “the particular form of expression in which an author convey[s] ideas or information to the world”.
    That grounds their idea/expression dichotomy.

  • Kathy Bowrey

    I think French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ also endorse an authorship line albeit more abstractly at [22- 28] esp [26]:
    ” Whilst judicial and academic writers may differ on the precise nature of the balance struck in copyright legislation in different places, there can be no doubt that copyright is given in respect of “the particular form of expression in which an author convey[s] ideas or information to the world”.
    That grounds their idea/expression dichotomy.

  • http://ipwars.com war

    Good point!

    Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ have not gone as far, or necessarily down the same path, as Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ – perhaps, because they didn’t need to in this particular decision.

    [24] certainly has some resonances with [95]ff, but the sections on the EU directive and the absence of a deeming provision for computer generated works?

  • http://ipwars.com war

    Good point!

    Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ have not gone as far, or necessarily down the same path, as Gummow, Hayne and Heydon JJ – perhaps, because they didn’t need to in this particular decision.

    [24] certainly has some resonances with [95]ff, but the sections on the EU directive and the absence of a deeming provision for computer generated works?

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