Copyright in bikini designs

Seafolly is in the news again: this time as the winner. In her last decision before retiring, Dodds-Streeton J has ordered that City Beach[1] pay Seafolly $250,333.06 by way of damages for infringing copyright in 3 Seafolly designs: the English Rose artwork, the Covent Garden artwork and the Senorita artwork.

The English Rose artwork and the Covent Garden artwork were both patterns or ornamentation printed on the fabric. The Senorita artwork, however, was in effect stitched on to the garment using shirring and smocking. Dodds-Streeton J, however, rejected City Beach’s defence based on sections 74 and 77 of the Copyright Act. Apart from all the other issues, her Honour’s application of the Full Court’s decision in the Polo/Lauren case struck me as particularly important.

Seafolly’s Senorita artwork:

321.12
321.11

City Beach’s Richelle embroidery:

321.13

The subsistence point

As you can see, the Senorita design is pretty simple in appearance. City Beach’s argument was that this simple design was the more or less inevitable outcome of using the type of industrial sewing machine used to produce it. According to the evidence, however, it involved significant trial and error to produce because smocking fabric was very difficult to work with, smocking did not always involve using triangles or diagonals and City Beach’s expert conceded “there was a huge array of different ‘cams’ which could produce an almost indefinite variety of patterns.” Her Honour rejected City Beach’s attack, therefore:

416 …. the Senorita embroidery was not the inevitable outcome of the operation of an industrial sewing machine. Nor was the work so rudimentary and simple as to be unprotectable because, in essence, there was no meaningful distinction between the subject matter and the form of expression.

The use of the sewing machines, therefore, appears to involve use of the machine to implement the human idea more in the vein of Coogi or a wordprocessor to record the text than as an automatically generated entity like the phone books in PDC. The second point made by her Honour seems to pick up the High Court’s point that the ordering of title and time of television program in chronological order did not involve sufficient creativity (or intellectual effort) to qualify as original.[2]

The copyright/design overlap

City Beach’s defence based on the copyright/design overlap provisions failed also, because the Senorita design when sewn on to the bikinis was not a corresponding design.

When the Designs (Consequential Amendments) Act 2003 introduced the current form of s 74 and s 77, it was hoped that the old problems about whether something constituted a “design” and whether it had been “applied to” an article had been sidestepped. All that was necessary, was to identify an artistic work which had been embodied in the features of shape or configuration of the product.[3] Rares J, at first instance in the Polo case adopted that too simplistic (as we now know) approach to find that the 700 or so stitches used to embroider the Polo logo on to a shirt qualified. This was set right by the Full Court on appeal.

Dodds-Streeton J acknowledged that the Full Court’s observations were obiter. Her Honour also acknowledged that the Full Court’s reasoning “is not consistently explicit, but must be inferred”. Her Honour considered that the Full Court’s reasons:

470 …. in substance indicate that it is the features of shape or configuration of an artwork (not a label on which the artwork is reproduced) that must be relevantly embodied in a product, which will occur when the product (in the present case, a garment) is made in the shape or configuration of the artwork.

Thus, the diamond pattern was not a corresponding design because, when stitched on to Seafolly’s bikinis, it did not define the shape or configuration of the bikini as a garment.

In reaching this conclusion, Dodds-Streeton J had to interpret the Full Court’s declaration at [58] that a design must be conceptually distinct from the product in which it was embodied to qualify as ‘embodied’ for the purposes of s 74. That created a problem in the present case as Dodds-Streeton J considered the stitching, or smocking, could not have existed independently of the garment:

473 It is true that, in contrast to the logo in Polo/Lauren itself, the reproduction of the Senorita artwork sewn on to the relevant garment may not retain a separate existence, as probably, it could not survive removal and is not conceptually distinct from the garment. Accordingly, if the Full Court’s observations in [58] represent the correct and comprehensive test, the Senorita artwork could be embodied within the meaning of s 74(1). As stated above, however, the comment at [58] does not comprehensively reflect the reasoning of the Full Court’s judgment.

I am not sure, with respect, why the Senorita design was any the less capable of independent existence than the Polo logo. I think the design could not have an independent existence because it was created by attaching the stitching to the shirring framestrings and there was presumably no drawing.

Dodds-Streeton J identified a further problem. It seems difficult, with respect, to reconcile the Full Court’s interpretation of s 74 with the clear legislative intent to capture woven tapestries, bas relief and “textured” carpets within the concept of corresponding design by the inclusion in s 74(2) of:

“embodied in , ” in relation to a product, includes woven into, impressed on or worked into the product.

According to Dodds-Streeton J:

480 Following the insertion of the words “woven into”, “impressed on” or “worked into” in s 74(2), it seems clear that features of shape or configuration of an artwork can be embodied in an article which is itself a piece of embroidery, a carpet, bas?relief or similar, by being woven or worked in. This was the qualification to the maintenance of the tradition [sic] position to which the Full Court referred at [48]. The amendment to s 74(2) did not, however, apply to the circumstances of Polo/Lauren itself as the relevant product was a garment rather than a carpet, bas?relief or embroidery (although the design was applied or attached by means of embroidery or “weaving in”).

Instead:

481 In the light of the Full Court’s emphasis that the position was otherwise unchanged, it would seem that it rejected Rares J’s analysis not simply or principally because the logo remained conceptually distinct from the garment, but because the garment was not made in the shape or configuration of the artistic work, irrespective of whether it was three dimensional.

It’s not clear why garments should be treated any differently to tapestries, carpets etc. I suppose a carpet could for example be woven in the shape of a (stylised) polo player or teddy bear or some other novelty shape thought to be appealing to someone out there in the wide world, but a tapesty? One might have thought (if one didn’t have the Full Court’s obiter dicta hanging over one) the legislature intended to catch all such woven, stitched or otherwise ‘applied’ artistic works from its intention to ensure that carpets, tapestries and the like be “clearly” brought in.

This is not to say that the alternative, literal approach to interpreting s 74 is not without its challenges. Dodds-Streeton J went on in dicta to consider that the Full Court really also disagreed with Rares J’s view that the embroidered stitching was sufficiently three-dimensional to qualify as features of shape or configuration.In any event:

486 … the surface of the garment onto which the smocking is sewn is not flat because the fabric is shirred. Any protrusion of the smocking from the surface is minimal and probably significantly less than that in Polo/Lauren itself, which on a fair reading of its judgment, the Full Court nevertheless thought insufficient.

So, there may well be questions of degree in how much three dimensional appearance is required before something qualifies as shape or configuration.[4] That is, however, a problem which long challenged designs law.

Seafolly Pty Ltd v Feswtone Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 321

 

Update:

Tim Golder points out:

  1. At paragraph 13, her Honour noted that the Señorita work subsisted in final drawings – so my attempt to rationalise her Honour’s perceived distinction to the Polo logo fails dismally.
  2. City Beach has already lodged its appeal: VID224/2014 for mention before Gordon J on 2 May.

  1. City Beach Australia is the trading name of Fewstone Pty Ltd.  ?
  2. IceTV Pty Ltd v Nine Network Pty Ltd (2009) 239 CLR 458 at [54] and [170].  ?
  3. Putting to one side, of course, all the fun and games of what may be a work of artistic craftsmanship for the purposes of s 77(1)(a) or the difference between “shape or configuration” and “pattern or ornamentation”.  ?
  4. This would also be an issue to some extent under the UK’s test of “surface decoration”: see Lambretta Clothing v Teddy Smith [2004] EWCA Civ 886.  ?

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