The Full Court has upheld Insight SRC’s appeal that it was entitled to compensatory damages under s 115(2) of the Copyright Act.

When ACER committed the infringements by reproducing the SOHQ, Dr Hart, the owner of the copyright, exploited it through his Insight company as an informal licensee or licensee at will.[1] As is probably not uncommon with “family” companies, the terms of the licence were so unclear Besanko J could not ascertain them. In these circumstances, Besanko J had ruled at [118]:

it is necessary to consider what action Dr Hart could have taken immediately prior to the execution of the Deed on 12 May 2011 by way of a damages claim for infringement of the copyright in the SOHQ. The possibilities are general damages under subs 115(2) and additional damages pursuant to subs 115(4) of the Act. As to the former, the difficulty for the applicants is that Dr Hart was not personally conducting a business involving the use of the SOHQ between the beginning of 2006 and 1 October 2009 and it has been no part of their case before me that Dr Hart personally would have exploited any commercial opportunities with ISV. Furthermore, Dr Hart did not claim that he could recover any such loss as the major shareholder of Insight SRC and that the Court could lift the corporate veil. On the other hand, what Dr Hart did have as the copyright owner was a right to nominal damages for infringement of copyright and a right to claim additional damages under subs 115(4). ….

ACER had used the copyright infringements to obtain contracts with ISV. It appears to have been accepted by both sides on the appeal that ISV would have had to award the contracts to Insight to be permitted to use the copyright. Bearing in mind that damages under s 115(2) are compensatory, the Full Court considered Dr Hart had suffered loss in the form of being prevented from procuring for his company the contracts ACER obtained by its copyright infringements. At [23]:

it is safe to infer that Dr Hart’s damage was the value of the loss of his ability to cause Insight to enter into a contract with ISV that would have generated the profit of $130,000 for Insight as found by the primary judge. Neither party at the trial asked his Honour to assess, as an alternative, the value of the loss of a chance to make such a contract.

From here, things get tricky. The Full Court went on to say at [24] that Dr Hart’s loss was not the royalty he would have received through the licence arrangement or the dividend he might have been paid from Insight’s profits:

An important component of this identification of what Insight’s damage would have been, is that Dr Hart wanted Insight to benefit by receipt of the profit. That is different to the characterisation urged by ACER that his damage was what might be received by him after Insight, Insight Holdings and the interposed trusts had received and made sequential distributions. Dr Hart used his efforts in exploiting the copyright to benefit Insight.

The reasoning seems to have been influenced by the proposition that a donor of a gift is entitled to recover the replacement value of the gift if it is wrongfully destroyed by another before receipt by the intended donee. (Perhaps, the real problem was that the licence arrangement was so amorphous[2] that it was not really possible to identify what fee was payable for the use of the copyright.)

In an attempt to kill off the case once and for all, the Full Court then went on to say that Dr Hart was entitled to at least $130,000 and, if the parties didn’t accept that, maybe more.

The $130,000 figure is interesting. It is the amount of profit Besanko J found ACER made on the ISV contracts it obtained by infringing the copyright. Presumably, that is the damages that Besanko J would have awarded on the basis that Insight would also have made that much profit.[3] I’m not sure why that follows but, perhaps, the Full Court had in mind that, possibly, Insight’s profit may have been higher than ACER’s as it may have had lower overheads?

Wouldn’t things have been easier if the majority in Aristocrataristocrat had agreed with Rares J’s view (and that of the English courts) that a reasonable royalty could be awarded as compensatory damages?

Insight SRC IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd [2013] FCAFC 62

  1. Insight did not become a formal, exclusive licensee until ACER’s infringements ceased. Bit more on the ownership, assignment and additional damages questions here.  ?
  2. The Full Court described it as “the informal, oral or bare licence that he granted it, or treated it as having had before the formal, exclusive licence [was] granted”. (emphasis supplied)  ?
  3. Damages under s 115(2) being an alternative to an account of profits must be the loss the copyright owner suffered, not the profits the infringer made which is the remedy obtained through an account. See e.g. Aristocrat and Rifai.  ?