2 years gaol for contempt

The Full Federal Court has reduced Mr Vaysman’s punishment for contempt from 3 years to 2 years imprisonment for repeatedly breaching injunctions not to infringe trade mark and copyright.

In 2003, Deckers Outdoor Corporation (the owner of the UGG Australia trade mark) sued Mr Vaysman, members of his extended family and various companies they operated through for infringing its trade mark and copyright. Those proceedings were settled by consent. Injunctions against trade mark infringement and copyright infringement had been ordered.

In 2004, Deckers Outdoor Corporation again sued Mr Vaysman, members of his family and the companies through which they operated for breach of the terms of settlement reached in 2003. Those proceedings were also settled by consent.

In 2007, Deckers Outdoor Corporation sued Mr Vaysman, members of his family, their companies and a number of others for the third time: for infringement of its trade marks and copyright and breaches of the prior terms of settlement.

Essentially, notwithstanding the two sets of earlier proceedings, the undertakings not to infringe and the injunctions against infringement, Mr Vaysman et al. had continued with their infringing activity making counterfeit UGG boots unabated at all. The proceedings involved two main aspects: the civil claims for infringement of trade mark and copyright and contempt charges for breaches of court orders made in both the earlier proceedings and also the 2007 proceedings (e.g. continuing the infringing activity in defiance of an interlocutory injunction).

Before the contempt charges were heard and the punishments handed down, there had been judgment against the Vaysman parties on the civil claims for infringement including an order for the corporate vehicle and Mr Vaysman jointly and severally to pay $3 million in compensatory damages and for the corporate vehicle to pay $3.5 million in additional damages pursuant to s 115(4) of the Copyright Act. (The corporate vehicle was by this stage being wound up.)

In relation to the most serious contempt, charge 18, the trial judge had found:

Charge 18 – Between December 2005 and (at least) November 2007 Mr Vaysman caused and encouraged the use of a factory in Roper Street Moorabbin for manufacturing and selling counterfeit footwear.  He did so contrary to consent orders to which he was a party which were made by the Court on 12 March 2004.  During this period, as I found in Deckers Outdoor Corporation Inc. Farley (No 5) [2009] FCA 1298 (“Deckers (No 5)”) at [84]-[92], over 30,000 pairs of counterfeit boots were sold with the profit on those sales amounting to over $3 million.

As Mr Vaysman was found to be in overall control of the whole operation, the trial judge sentenced him to 3 years’ imprisonment for this contempt. (Other charges of contempt were also established, but received much lighter punishments to be served concurrently with the punishment on charge 18.

By the time the contempt charges came to be heard in 2010, Mr Vaysman was no longer in Australia.

After the punishments for contempt were imposed, Mr Vaysman’s father, a 74 year old in ill-health and found by the Court to be of previously unblemished character, successfully appealed a sentence of a term of 18 months’ imprisonment. Gray and Bromberg JJ, considering imprisonment very much a last resort, imposed a fine of  $50,000, but ordered that the roughly 2 months or so he had already served in prison stand in lieu of the fine. Besanko J agreed that the sentence needed to be reduced, but would have reduced the sentence to a term of 12 months.

Mr Vaysman returned to Australia in June 2013. He was imprisoned pursuant to the contempt order. He sought leave to appeal (a long time out of time).

Besanko J, with whom Siopis J agreed, granted leave and considering the 3 year sentence manifestly excessive having regard to other sentences for contempt, ordered the sentence be reduced to two years. Besanko J did not consider that Federal Court sentencing practices needed to be adjusted for consistency with State court sentences. Nor did his Honour think any discount should be made having regard to the award of additional damages.

Dowsett J took a different approach.

His Honour considered that, to the extent that Federal Court sentences for contempt, were more lenient than comparable State courts, the Federal Court standard should be lifted. Focusing on the punitive nature of awards of additional damages, however, his Honour considered there an element of double counting or double jeopardy in not taking into account the additional damages award when fixing the contempt penalty. Dowsett J would have reduced the prison sentence from 3 years to 2 years and 3 months.

Vaysman v Deckers Outdoor Corporation Inc [2014] FCAFC 60

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