The Full Court (Keane CJ, Perram and Yates JJ) have dismissed Telstra’s appeal in the Phone Directories case.

First impressions.

Given the (arguably) disparate reasoning in the 2 judgments in IceTV, the Chief Judge has to weave a rather tricky path. His Honour nonetheless clearly recognised:

[79] The reasoning of all the judges of the High Court in IceTV requires a revision of the relevance of skill and labour to the subsistence of copyright. ….

[82] The dicta in IceTV shift the focus of inquiry away from a concern with the protection of the interests of a party who has contributed labour and expense to the production of a work, to the “particular form of expression” which is said to constitute an original literary work, and to the requirement of the Act “that the work originates with an author or joint authors from some independent intellectual effort”.

Keane CJ then distinguished Desktop Marketing:

[86] On behalf of the appellants, it is argued that this case can be decided in favour of the respondents only if all the cases which have upheld claims to copyright in compilations (which are collected in Desktop Marketing) can be said to have been wrongly decided. But that is not so. None of those cases, nor Desktop Marketing itself, involved automated compilation as opposed to compilation by individuals. The decision of this Court in Desktop Marketing (and the older cases to which it referred) did not advert at all to the effect of an automated process in the making of the compilation in respect of which copyright was said to subsist.

(See also per Yates J at [177].) Accordingly, Keane CJ advanced as the principal reason for dismissing the appeal:

[89] The compilation of the directories was overwhelmingly the work of the Genesis Computer System or its predecessors. The selection of data and its arrangement in the form presented in each directory occurred only at “the book extract” or “book production” process. The compilations which emerged from the operation of the computer system do not originate from an individual or group of individuals. Indeed, none of the individuals who contributed to the production of the directories had any conception of the actual form in which they were finally expressed.
[90] In my respectful opinion, the decision of the trial judge must be upheld on the basis that the findings of primary fact made by her Honour establish that the WPDs and YPDs are not compiled by individuals but by the automated processes of the Genesis Computer System or its predecessors. That being so, it is neither necessary nor relevant to seek to come to a conclusion as to the sufficiency of the intellectual effort deployed by those individuals who provide data input to the computerised database. Their activities are not part of the activity of compilation: they do not select, arrange and present that data in the form in which it is published.

Similarly, Yates J said:

[130] In my view the primary judge was correct in concluding that the relevant compilations in the White Pages Directories (WPDs) and the Yellow Pages Directories (YPDs) for particular regions, as published by the appellants, were not original literary works for copyright purposes. The primary judge advanced a number of reasons for coming to that conclusion, including that much of the contribution to each work was not the result of human authorship but was computer-generated: at [5(2.3)]. In my view that finding alone justified the conclusion to which her Honour came on the question of copyright subsistence and is determinative of this appeal.

See also [165] and [167].

Perram J appears to have reached the same point albeit by what may rather be a somewhat different route. First, his Honour was willing to accept that the labour and effort spent in collecting, verifying and correcting the information may have assisted in establishing that the directories were original in the limited sense of not being copied from some other source. However, it did not qualify as “independent intellectual effort” (IceTV at [33]) or “sufficient effort of a literary nature” (IceTV at [99]” since it was not directed to the reduction of the collected data into the material form comprised of the directories. (See [104] and [112].)


[118] The Act does not presently deal explicitly with the impact of software on authorship (although this is not so in the United Kingdom: s 9(3) Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (UK)). But a computer program is a tool and it is natural to think that the author of a work generated by a computer program will ordinarily be the person in control of that program. However, care must taken to ensure that the efforts of that person can be seen as being directed to the reduction of a work into a material form. Software comes in a variety of forms and the tasks performed by it range from the trivial to the substantial. So long as the person controlling the program can be seen as directing or fashioning the material form of the work there is no particular danger in viewing that person as the work’s author. But there will be cases where the person operating a program is not controlling the nature of the material form produced by it and in those cases that person will not contribute sufficient independent intellectual effort or sufficient effort of a literary nature to the creation of that form to constitute that person as its author: a plane with its autopilot engaged is flying itself. In such cases, the performance by a computer of functions ordinarily performed by human authors will mean that copyright does not subsist in the work thus created. Those observations are important to this case because they deny the possibility that Mr Vormwald or Mr Cooper were the authors of the directories. They did not guide the creation of the material form of the directories using the programs and their efforts were not, therefore, sufficient for the purposes of originality.

Accordingly, as there were no human authors of the directories, they were not original works.

In taking this approach, it seems likely that it will prove very difficult for those using computer systems to store and manipulate data and to produce complicated “print outs” to claim copyright in those products.

On a more cheerful note, Keane CJ and Perram J both recognised the impracticality of a requirement that a copyright claimant must identify all the human authors by name.

Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd [2010] FCAFC 149

Lid dip “Rounders1990” (who presumably must update himself to “Rounders2010”).