Pagone J has awarded Pokémon $1 in damages and 70% of its costs from Redbubble for misleading or deceptive conduct and copyright infringement. An interesting aspect of the case is that Redbubble’s implementation of a notice and take down scheme under the DMCA didn’t save it from liability, but did influence the ruling on remedies.
Redbubble provides a print on demand online market place by which artists can upload their works to the Redbubble website and purchasers can then buy the artworks or designs applied to desired products such as t-shirts, cups and the like. A person uploading a work to the marketplace warrants that he or she has the relevant intellectual property rights and indemnified Redbubble against infringement claims.
The evidence showed Google searches in which paid (sponsored) and organic search results listing “Pokémon” products such as t-shirts bearing Pokemon’s Pikachu character which could be ordered from the Redbubble site. The sponsored links were paid for and arranged by Redbubble through the Google Merchant Centre and the products themselves were offered for sale through Google Shopping. From the tenor of the judgment, I think that the designs were uploaded by third parties, but Redbubble arranged the “fulfillers” who printed and shipped the t-shirts (and other products) with the designs printed on them.
Pagone J found that Pokémon owned the copyright in the images of the Pokémon characters depicted on the various products in evidence. Further, the images were uploaded without Pokemon’s consent.
Pagone J found therefore that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright and misrepresented, contrary to sections 18 and 29(1)(g) and (h) of the Australian Consumer Law, that the products were official or authorised Pokémon products.
In finding that there had been misrepresentations that the products were sponsored or approved by Pokémon, Pagone J referred, amongst other things, to the fact that the “sponsored” links did include the word “sponsored” (although this meant in fact that the products were sponsored by Redbubble, not Pokemon). His Honour also found significance in the fact that:
There was nothing on the Redbubble website to inform the consumer that there was no connection, authorised or otherwise, between Redbubble on the one hand and [Pokemon] (or any other entity authorised to exploit Pokémon products) on the other.
Copyright subsistence and ownership
Pokémon was able to prove it owned the copyright in the artistic works through the evidence of its attorney responsible for obtaining copyright registration in the USA. Although the attorney, Mr Monahan, had not been personally present when any works were created, Pagone J considered his evidence sufficient. At 36, his Honour said:
…. He conceded in cross?examination that he had not stood over the shoulder of any creator and, therefore, that he did not have direct eyewitness, or other direct, knowledge beyond that gained from “detailed consultation with the client” but that “with respect to each series of the cards, [he had] consult[ed] with the client to determine which – for instance, which Japanese card they derive[d] from, or [… where] the artwork comes from”. His specific and direct evidence was that of consulting with the client to determine that the works were made by the Japanese company and were made as the Japanese card, although, as mentioned, he did not fly personally to Japan and had not been witness to the creation process. It had been his specific professional responsibility to obtain and secure registrations in accordance with lawful entitlements and requirements. He was confident in that context of his conclusion that the Pikachu work was not a copy based upon an animation cell because of his experience over many years of consulting with the client as his professional obligations and legal duties. In specific response in cross?examination about being confident in giving evidence that the pose of Pikachu was not derivative of any other pose already published, Mr Monahan said that every investigation he had done about the card making process enabled him to say that the cards were generated on their own and were not derivative of the animation, “common poses notwithstanding”.
Further, unlike Perram J in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Pagone J also accepted that the certificate of copyright registration in the USA identifying Pokémon as the claimant to copyright ownership was sufficient to enliven the presumption under s 126B(3) of the Copyright Act. (Given the history of the provision recounted by his Honour, one might think this should not be too controversial: afterall, how many other countries out there have a copyright registration system?)
Pagone J then held that Redbubble had infringed the copyright in three ways. First, his Honour held that Redbubble infringed by communicating the infringing images from its website. Although the images were uploaded by third parties, Redbubble made the communication for the purposes of [s 22(6)]: Pagone J distinguished Redbubble’s position from that of ISPs like iiNet at :
In the present case Redbubble does not provide the content of the communications in the sense of being the originator of any of the 29 images on its website said to be infringements of the Pikachu work. In each case the originator was the artist who had placed the image on the Redbubble website. Redbubble, however, was responsible for determining that content through its processes, protocols and arrangements with the artists. Redbubble’s position is not like that of an internet provider. Redbubble is the host of the website with the infringing material. It has a user agreement with artists which deals with matters including the possibility of infringing materials, an IP policy, and a team dedicated to deal with impermissible content.
Secondly, offering the products for sale online was sufficient to enliven s 38 which, amongst other things, extends to exhibiting “infringing” articles in public by way of trade.
Although there appear to have been some rather unspecific complaints about copyright infringement by Pokémon between 2012 and 2014, Pagone J found that Redbubble knew, or ought reasonably have known, that the products were infringing from the date of the letter of demand from Pokémon’s external solicitors on 25 November 2015.
Thirdly, Pagone J held that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright by authorising the manufacture of the infringing products when orders for their purchase were placed.
In this respect, it is worth noting that Redbubble had implemented and acted on a notice and takedown system under the (US) DMCA. Pagone J recognised, therefore, that Redbubble did not expressly authorise infringement and took conscious, considered and reasonable steps, both proactively and responsively, to prevent infringements. These, however, were not enough. At , his Honour said:
The business established by Redbubble carried the inherent risk of infringement of copyright of the kind complained of by [Pokemon]. It is true that Redbubble sought to mitigate the risk, but it was an inevitable incident of the business, as Redbubble chose to conduct it, that there were likely to be infringements. It could have prevented them by taking other steps but for business reasons Redbubble chose to deal with the risk of infringement by a process that enabled the infringements to occur. Such infringements were embedded in the system which was created for, and adopted by, Redbubble. There may have been a sound commercial basis for Redbubble to manage the risks of infringement as it did, but in doing so it authorised the infringements which occurred.
Pokémon sought $44,555.84 in damages by way of lost royalties for the consumer law breaches and only nominal damages for copyright infringement. As already noted, however, Pagone J awarded only $1 in total.
The evidence did not establish that sales made by Redbubble were lost sales by Pokémon. There was, for example, no evidence that many of the sales were sales of kinds of products sold by Pokémon or its licensees. For example, his Honour said:
…. Many of the items sold through the Redbubble website involved a “mash up” of images, such as the combination of Pikachu and Homer Simpson. The finding of an infringing use of a work, or an impermissible representation in trade, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the sale made by the infringement or upon the misrepresentation was necessarily a sale that would have been made by the wronged party. The unreliability of such an assumption in this case can be seen from the fact that the infringements were in the use of the image in mash ups in, and in items that were not sold or authorised for sale by [Pokemon]. ….
Given the notice and take down processes put in place by Redbubble, Pagone J was not prepared to find the infringements were “flagrant”, warranting the award of additional damages under s 115(4)
Pokémon Company International, Inc. v Redbubble Ltd  FCA 1541
- Implementation and compliance with the DMCA scheme explicitly affected the ruling on additional damages. ?
- Even if you haven’t played it, you must have seen all those people milling around in parks at lunchtime trying to “capture” these imaginary Pokémon Go “critters”. Pokemon itself has an even longer history. There are also trading card games and a successful television series which has been broadcast in Australia since 2000 and distributed on over 57,000 DVDs. ?
- If you are not sweltering in the southern summer sun, s 18 provides “A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.” And s 29(1)(g) and (h) prohibit making false or misleading representations in trade or commerce about sponsorship, affiliation or approval. ?
- Curiously, at  (when discussing ownership by proof of a certificate), his Honour also said Pokémon had not proved ownership on the basis of authorship. ?
- In fact, Pagone J subsequently found that Redbubble did in fact remove listings when Pokemon notified it that they were infringing. ?
- It is less than clear from the judgment what action Redbubble took in response to the letter of demand. Ordinarily, one would assume that it had continued engaging in the infringing conduct but that seems a bit surprising given Pagone J records that Redbubble did comply with other take down notices once the subject of complaint had been properly identified. ?
- The DMCA, being US legislation, does not provide protection from infringement in Australia under the Australian Copyright Act 1968. Redbubble also purported to operate under the corresponding Australian provisions ss116AA – 116AJ but, of course, it is not a carriage service provider and so they do not apply either. ?
- Cf. esp. Section 36(1A)(c)[s36]. ?