Staying arbitration: Kraft, Bega, Warner Bros and Mad Max

In the face of misleading and deceptive conduct litigation in Australia, O’Callaghan J has granted injunctions restraining Kraft from pursuing its arbitration claims in New York against Bega’s sale and promotion of Bega Peanut Butter in what Kraft alleges is misleading or deceptive get-up.

Kraft had been selling peanut butter in Australia under the Kraft brand for over 50 years. It had about 65% of the peanut butter market in Australia valued at over Australian $110 million per year.

In 2012, however, Kraft restructured its operations globally into a grocery business and a snack food business. The snack food business was operated by Mondelez.

Mondelez was given a licence to use the Kraft brand on, amongst other things, peanut butter which included the right to use the get-up Kraft had been using. The licence was due to expire at the end of December 2017.

Before the licence expired, Mondelez sold its Australian and NZ business to Bega. Bega began marketing its peanut butter in the get-up shown below:

 

Kraft peanut butter
Bega peanut butter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kraft’s licence to Mondelez included a dispute resolution clause that all disputes arising under, or in relation to, the licence should go through the familiar three-tiered resolution process of consultation, mediation and, if not resolved, binding arbitration in New York:

Step Process: Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or the breach thereof (a “Dispute”), shall be resolved: (a) first, by negotiation and then by mediation as provided in Section 7.2; and (b) then, if negotiation and mediation fail, by binding arbitration as provided in Section 7.3. Each party agrees on behalf of itself and each member of its prospective Group that the procedures set forth in this Article VII shall be the exclusive means for resolution of any Dispute. The initiation of mediation or arbitration hereunder will toll the applicable statute of limitations for the duration of any such proceedings.

Kraft sought to initiate the dispute resolution process with Bega. Amongst other things, Kraft contends in the arbitration that Bega’s use of the Bega Trade Dress is in breach of the licence from Kraft to use the Kraft Peanut Butter Trade Dress. Kraft goes on to allege:

  1. Bega’s use of virtually identical trade dress on its peanut butter is likely to cause and is causing confusion, mistake or deception as to Kraft’s sponsorship and/or endorsement of Bega’s peanut butter product.

Considering that Bega was not complying with the process, Kraft launched proceedings in the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York to compel Bega to mediation. Bega, while reserving the right to claim it was not subject to the arbitration agreement, told the New York court it would participate in the mediation process.

In parallel with these developments, however, Kraft also commenced proceedings in Australia against Bega alleging that the promotion of the Bega peanut butter in the Bega get-up in Australia contravened the prohibitions on misleading or deceptive conduct in the Australian Consumer Law. According to Kraft, Bega’s advertisements and use of the Bega get-up misrepresented that Kraft peanut butter is now Bega peanut butter or is being replaced by Bega peanut butter and the Kraft brand has changed to Bega.

In the Australian proceedings, Bega cross-claimed and also sought injunctions ordering Kraft not to prosecute the arbitration proceedings. After careful consideration of the principles for ordering a party not to engage in arbitration, O’Callaghan J has granted that anti-arbitration injunction.

O’Callaghan J considered that the question of the ownership of the packaging and get-up was the central issue raised in both Kraft’s notice of arbitration and the proceeding under s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law.

If the question in the arbitration proceeding had simply been that the licence had expired and Bega had no right to use the get-up, there may not have been an overlap. As noted above, however, Kraft’s notice of arbitration went much further with allegations of false representations.

Kraft argued that its claims under s 18 of the ACL do not arise under or in relation to the contract, but are independent statutory causes of action. O’Callaghan J pointed out at [91] that whether the statutory cause of action was independent of, or in relation to, the contract depended on whether there was a nexus or connection between the contract and the contraventions which gave rise to the misleading or deceptive conduct claim.

In this case, there was such a connection as whether or not Bega’s conduct was misleading turned on the operation of the licence agreement. At [95], his Honour pointed out the alleged misrepresentations could only be false or misleading by virtue of the operation and effect of the terms of the licence agreement. Accordingly at [96]:

Kraft’s pleaded case in this proceeding is one in which it seeks to agitate a dispute which is properly to be characterised as being “in relation to” the master agreement. For that reason, in my view, Kraft should have invoked the dispute resolution provisions of the master agreement with respect to the claims made in this proceeding. It was not, as it contended, bound to bring the proceeding in this court.

Having found that the court proceeding and the arbitration addressed the same or at least overlapping subject matter, his Honour went on to find that it was appropriate to grant an injunction against pursuing the arbitration while the consumer law proceeding was on foot.

First, O’Callaghan J rejected any argument that it was necessary to show, in cases where parties had set up an arbitration process, an exceptional case or that the power to grant an injunction should be viewed through a “different prism”.

Secondly, his Honour acknowledged the tension between courts’ desire to hold parties to their bargains (i.e. respect the arbitration clause) and “deep and strong antipathy” to situations which could give rise to inconsistent verdicts.

Here, Kraft was the author of its own predicament. It could have (and should have) included its misleading and deceptive conduct claims in its arbitration notice, but instead had chosen to bring separate and additional proceedings in Australia. At [109]:

Kraft ought to have included the claims made in this proceeding under the Australian Consumer Law in its notice of arbitration because those claims, contrary to Kraft’s submission, do fall within the ambit of the arbitration clause in the master agreement. Instead, Kraft chose to initiate this proceeding, and then to prosecute it, including by filing a statement of claim and a reply to Bega’s defence, participating in procedural directions, seeking discovery, filing a notice to produce, consenting to the filing by Bega of a counterclaim (in which the issue of ownership of the trade dress issue is squarely raised) and then filing a defence to that counterclaim. As Bega submitted, Kraft is the party responsible for the bringing of both proceedings. It alone is the author of the possibility or probability of duplicated litigation and inconsistent findings. Each of those considerations also weighs significantly in favour of restraining the arbitration, at least until this proceeding is determined.

O’Callaghan J then went on to consider whether there were any equitable considerations that weighed against granting an injunction.

Finally, O’Callaghan J rejected Kraft’s argument that, instead of seeking an injunction against the arbitration proceedings, Bega should have applied under s 7(2) of the International Arbitration Act 1974 (Cth) for orders to stay the Australian proceeding. At [166]:

I reject that submission. First, Bega had no obligation to seek a stay under s 7 of the International Arbitration Act 1974 (Cth) or otherwise. Secondly, if the stay application was bound to have succeeded on those grounds, one would have thought it rather suggests that Kraft should not have brought the proceeding in this court in the first place.

After a subsequent hearing, O’Callaghan J rejected Kraft’s contention that the injunction against progressing the arbitration proceeding should only apply so long as Kraft’s application in the Australian proceeding was on foot. Kraft argued that Bega’s cross-claim was “a matter for Bega” and should not bear on the injunction. As his Honour noted, Kraft openly admitted the point here was that it may well discontinue its claim in Australia.

O’Callaghan J pointed out that the assessment of inconsistency was not made just on Kraft’s claim, but the pleadings as a whole. At [69], O’Callaghan J explained:

In assessing whether, and if so, to what extent, the issues in the two proceedings overlap, the scope of the relevant issues necessarily includes all the issues raised by the parties, including by Bega in its defence and counterclaim, and by Kraft in its statement of claim, reply and defence to counterclaim. That is so because when a foreign party brings a proceeding in an Australian court, it submits not only to its jurisdiction in respect of its own action, but also in respect of any cross-claim that a respondent brings: ….

Bega’s cross-claim and Kraft’s defence to it raised essentially the same central question as raised in Kraft’s claim and the arbitration proceeding: the ownership and rights to use the get-up in dispute.

A more conventional outcome is illustrated by Warner Bros Feature Productions Pty Ltd v Kennedy Miller Mitchell Films Pty Ltd, in which the NSW Court of Appeal ordered a stay of the court proceedings in favour of arbitration.

In Warner, George Miller and Doug Mitchell are in dispute with the Warner group over payments for their roles in producing and directing Mad Max: Fury Road. The Court of Appeal dealt with a construction fight whether the arbitration clause formed part of the contract or not. Finding it did, on Warner’s application the Court ordered a stay of the NSW proceedings.

In this case, unlike Kraft v Bega, the party seeking to enforce the arbitration clause, Warner, had not brought the potentially inconsistent proceedings – Miller and Mitchell did.

Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v Bega Cheese Limited [2018] FCA 549

Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v Bega Cheese Limited (No 2) [2018] FCA 615

Patent cases in the Federal Court

Kelvin Tran from Litimetrics has published some fascinating statistics about patent litigation in the Federal Court of Australia.

For example, since 2010, 472 cases have been commenced in the Federal Court involving patent issues. Mr Tran points out that number “compares” to 160,000 granted standard patents and 1,400 certified patents.

The publication also includes a breakdown of numbers by registry, length of proceedings, time to resolution and the average number of typical events such as directions hearings, interlocutory applications and the like. They may be useful if you have to prepare a budget or a costs disclosure statement. To view Mr Tran’s statistics, you should go here.

IP Amendment (Productivity Commission Part 1 …) Bill – exposure draft

IP Australia has released an exposure draft bill and regulations to implement some of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations from its Intellectual Property Arrangements report. Intended to be the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Productivity Commission Response Part 1 and Other Measures) Bill 2017.[1]

According to the news release, the amendments will:

  • commence the abolition of the innovation patent system (PC recommendation 8.1)
  • expand the scope of essentially derived variety declarations in the Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) Act (PC recommendation 13.1)
  • reduce the grace period for filing non-use applications under the Trade Marks Act (PC recommendation 12.1(a))
  • clarify the circumstances in which the parallel importation of trade marked goods does not infringe a registered trade mark (PC recommendation 12.1(c))
  • repeal section 76A of the Patents Act, which requires patentees to provide certain data relating to pharmaceutical patents with an extended term (PC recommendation 10.1)
  • allow PBR exclusive licensees to take infringement actions
  • allow for the award of additional damages, under the PBR Act
  • include measures intended to streamline a number of processes for the IP rights that IP Australia administers,

and everyone’s favourite “a number of technical amendments”.

On the parallel imports front, the bill would introduce a new s 122A to replace s 123(1) with the object of overruling the Federal Court’s case law severely restricting the legality of “parallel imports” since the 1995 Act came into force. It’s a “doozy”.

For example, it attempts to reverse the onus of proof that the courts have imposed on parallel importers by providing that

at the time of use, it was reasonable for the [parallel importer] to assume the trade mark had been applied to, or in relation to, the goods by, or with the consent of, a person who was, at the time of the application or consent (as the case may be):

(i) the registered owner of the trade mark; or

(ii) an authorised user of the trade mark; or

(iii) a person authorised to use the trade mark by a person mentioned in subparagraph (i) or (ii), or with significant influence over the use of the trade mark by such a person; or

(iv) an associated entity (within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001) of a person mentioned in subparagraph (i), (ii) or (iii).

 

I suppose “reasonable to assume” does at least require some objective support for the “assumption”.

The second part – (iii) and (iv) above – is trying to deal with the situation where the registered owner assigns the trade mark to someone in Australia, but with the capability of calling for a re-assignment.[2]

This will require considerable flexibility by the Courts in interpreting “significant influence”.

If you have made such and assignment, or your client has, you had better start re-assessing your commercial strategy, however. The transitional arrangements say the amendment will apply to any infringement actions brought after the section commences. Moreover, this will be the case even if the “infringing act” took place before the commencement date.

Comments should be submitted by 4 December 2017.

Exposure draft bill

Exposure draft EM

Exposure draft regulations

Exposure draft explanatory statement


  1. Seems like the “short title” of bills are reverting to the old form “long” titles!  ?
  2. For example, Transport Tyre Sales Pty Ltd v Montana Tyres Rims & Tubes Pty Ltd [1999] FCA 329.  ?

Print outs of third party websites ruled inadmissible

Mortimer J has ruled that print outs of third party websites are inadmissible as hearsay and, if not, excluded under s 135 of the Evidence Act as unduly prejudicial.

Shape Shopfitters is suing Shape Australia for infringement of several registered trade marks which, it says, include SHAPE as the essential feature and the usual passing off-type actions.[1] Both are in the commercial construction business. Shape Australia used to be called ISIS Group Australia, but changed its name in October 2015, as her Honour said “for reasons that are immediately obvious.”

Shape Shopfitters is contending that the use of “Shape” in Shape Australia’s name is likely to lead people to think that Shape Shopfitters is the “shopfitting” arm of Shape Australia, which it is not.

As part of its defence Shape Australia sought to lead evidence of ASIC and Australian Business Register records of other companies and businesses with the word SHAPE in their name. Shape Australia also sought to introduce print outs of the websites of various businesses resulting from Google searches such as “shape building”.[2] Some, but not all, of the print outs were from the Wayback Machine. The print outs purported to be of businesses called Shape Consulting, Shape Builders Pty Ltd, Shape Joinery & Design Pty Ltd, Shape Fitouts Pty Ltd and Shape Finance (Aust) Pty Ltd. You will immediately appreciate that Shape Australia was hoping to show that “shape” itself was not distinctive or to rely on the well-known proposition from the Hornsby Building Information case.[3]

Mortimer J noted that no objection was taken to the ASIC or Australian Business Register print out – presumably, because they were official records.[4]

However, the print outs of the websites of the businesses themselves were hearsay. They were being advanced to show that there were other businesses out there claiming to have and use the names appearing in the print outs. At [24], her Honour ruled:[5]

the evidence sought to be adduced by the respondent is clearly hearsay within the meaning of s 59 of the Evidence Act. The statements made on various internet sites of other corporations or business entities (including the archived material to which Mr Henry deposes in [24] of his affidavit)[6] constitute a previous representation made by the person or persons who constructed the website, wrote the text and inserted the graphics. The purpose of adducing evidence of those statements of text and graphics is to prove the existence of a fact it can reasonably be supposed was intended by the drafter of the text and the person who constructed the graphics. The fact is that there were business entities trading on the dates specified (between August and October 2016) in the industries and markets set out on the pages exhibited by Mr Henry, in the locations those webpages identified using the names those webpages identified. It is the actual existence of those business entities, the names they were using, the industries and markets in which they were trading, the services they were offering and the locations in which they were offering those services which the respondent in my opinion seeks to use as part of its case to prove that there was no confusion in the marketplace generated by its use of the word “shape” in SHAPE Australia.

Even if the print outs were not hearsay, Mortimer J would have excluded them under s 135 if the Evidence Act on the basis that their probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of prejudice to Shape Shopfitting.

the evidence … constitutes no more than a snapshot of what was available through a series of internet searches on a particular date, without any context being available to be tested about the nature of the businesses these searches have turned up. The probative value of such searches is limited on any view. The applicant’s case is a very specific one about what participants in the commercial construction industry may or may not be led to believe concerning the relationship between the applicant and the respondent, and whether the applicant might be seen as no more than a “specialist shop fitting arm” of the respondent. To have evidence in the nature of single date extracts of internet searches showing businesses using the word “shape”, without calling evidence from witnesses who operate or control those businesses, and allowing the applicant to test the similarities or differences between those businesses and its own, between the customer base(s) of those business and its own, and in turn between those businesses and the respondents, is in my opinion to create a danger of unfair prejudice to the applicant. Snapshots of internet searches on particular dates, all of which are between just under and just over a year after the respondent adopted the name “SHAPE Australia” contribute little by way of proof as to what participants in the commercial construction industry were likely to believe about the commercial relationship between the applicant and the respondent since 26 October 2015, but it is not the kind of evidence the applicant can test as it should be able to.

What Shape Australia should have done was get affidavits, or subpoena, from (1) witnesses from the companies it wished to prove existed and (2) consumers who might be searching for the relevant services.

Now, depending on which side of the case you find yourself, you will be cheering or in tears. But, at the very least one might wonder if that correct approach is really conducting litigation “as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible”? It will be very interesting to see how her Honour deals with Shape Australia’s substantive arguments whether it’s name is too similar to Shape Shopfittings’? Meanwhile, the Registrar can treat the Wayback Machine as valid evidence.

Shape Shopfitters Pty Ltd v Shape Australia Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] FCA 474


  1. In which I include the usual misleading or deceptive conduct actions under the Australian Consumer Law too.  ?
  2. It is not clear whether the search was just of the two words or the two words in quotation marks.  ?
  3. At [25].  ?
  4. At [13].  ?
  5. Noting that at least 2 prior decisions had ruled internet archive materials inadmissible: Athens v Randwick City Council [2005] NSWCA 317 and E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Limited [2008] FCA 93.  ?
  6. I.e., the Wayback Machine print outs.  ?

The Federal Circuit Court can grant Mareva injunctions

The Federal Circuit Court can issue mareva injunctions[1] under s 14 and s 15 of the Federal Circuit Court Act 1999.

Mr Vartzokas is an architect. Through his company he agreed to provide architectural services in connection with the development of a 5 storey apartment block in Prospect Rd Adelaide to the developer, Nazero Contructions Pty Ltd.

He provided the services and sent in his bill for $48,100.

Mr Younan seems to have been the principal of Nazero Constructions and was the person with whom Mr Vartzokas dealt.

With some difficulty, Mr Vartzokas managed to extract payments totalling $25,000 from Mr Younan. When Mr Vartzokas sent in his final bill for the remaining $23,100 with the final drawings, the drawings were endorsed with the statement:[2]

These drawings are the copyright property of the architect and are not to be reproduced or copied without prior written license of the architect.

Needless to say (this is a court case afterall), Mr Vartzokas was not paid his outstanding $23,100.

Instead, he was contacted by a Mr Chen on behalf of Yi Hong Pty Ltd, which was about to purchase the Prospect Rd property and wanted to engage Mr Vartzokas to provide further architectural services in relation to it.

Mr Chen provided Mr Vartzokas with copies of the working drawings for the property which Mr Chen had obtained from Mr Younan in connection with the proposed purchase and wanted Mr Vartzokas to work on.

Mr Vartzokas recognised the drawings as being the ones he had prepared for Mr Younan and Nacero Constructions. Only the authorship was attributed to “JB Archi-Build”!

Unbeknownst to Mr Vartzokas, around the time Mr Vartzokas was having trouble extracting his initial payments from Mr Younan, Mr Younan caused a new company, Nazero Group SA Pty Ltd to be incorporated. Nazero Constructions sold the Prospect Rd property to Nacero Group for $1,017,500. Nacero Constructions then changed its name to Zeecat Constructions.

When Mr Chen provided the “JB Archi-Build” drawings to Mr Vartzokas, Mr Vartzokas discovered the existence of Nacero Group and that it was in the process of selling the Prospect Rd property to Yi Hong for $1,190,000. Settlement on the contract was due the next day following the hearing.

Mr Vartzokas sued seeking a mareva injunction to require the proceeds from the sale (after paying out the bank holding a registered mortgage over the property) be paid into the Federal Circuit Court pending trial of Mr Vartzokas’ copyright infringement claims.

Judge Brown granted the mareva injunction ex parte. On the question whether Mr Vartzokas had demonstrated a real risk that the assets would be dissipated and the Court’s process frustrated, his Honour pointed to the sneaky swap in ownership of the Prospect Rd property between Mr Younan’s companies, his failure to pay all Mr Vartzokas’ bills and continued use of the drawings without payment or recognition:

[35] I am also satisfied that the applicant has established a prima facie case that there is a real risk of assets being dissipated, if the relief sought is not granted. In my view, the significant evidence in this regard arises as a consequence of the change of name of Nazero Constructions Pty Ltd, which coincided with that entity not honouring the invoices submitted to it by the applicant. This failure to pay its debt, to the applicant, ultimately led to the winding up of the company concerned.

[36] More significantly, after the company had been liquidated, Mr Younan incorporated an entity with a similar name and transferred the land at Prospect to it. At the same time, Mr Younan appears to have been intent on developing the land in a similar manner to that which envisaged the intellectual input of Mr Vartzokas, but without either payment or recognition to him.

[37] In all these circumstances, I am satisfied that there is a significant risk that, if the injunction sought is not made, the proceeds of sale of the Prospect property will not be available to the applicant to either satisfy any award of damages to which he is entitled or to provide any accounting for the profits made on the sale of the land concerned, which, at least on a prima facie basis, seems to have included his architectural designs to be utilised on the property’s development.

His Honour also noted there was no prejudice to third parties as the bank mortgagee would get paid its due before money’s were paid into court.

Vartzokas Architects Pty Ltd v Nacero Group SA Pty Ltd [2017] FCCA 849


  1. Yes, I know we are supposed to call them an asset preservation order, but really ….  ?
  2. The usual implied licence can be excluded by an express written term to the contrary: Devefi v Mateffy Perl Nagy  ?

Kickass Torrents website blocked – third party injunctions

Burley J has granted Universal Music’s application[1] ordering the ISPs to block access to Kickass Torrents’ websites.

This is the second decision under s 115A of the Copyright Act 1968 empowering copyright owners (and their agents) to seek injunctions against third parties (i.e. ISPs and telcos) to block access to offshore infringing websites.

Putting to one side stylistic matters, his Honour’s orders appear in substance to be the same as the orders previously made by Nicholas J against “solarmovie” and “The Pirate Bay” (some discussion here).[2]

The Copyright Council also reports that Roadshow Films has brought a new case seeking third party blocking injunctions against 41 websites including “Watchseries”, “Putlocker” and “MegaShare”.

Universal Music Australia Pty Limited v TPG Internet Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 435 (Burley J)


  1. and also the applications by APRA and various other copyright holders.  ?
  2. The ISPs get 10 business days, rather than 7, to respond to applications by the copyright owners to extend the injunctions to “whack-a-mole” sites – see paragraph 12.  ?

$3 million!

Last year, we looked at the ACCC’s successful prosecution of Valve (provider of the online gaming platform, Steam) for breach of the consumer guarantees in the ACL. Valve’s contracts for example provided that all fees were payable in advance and not refundable. Valve’s main line of defence was that it was in the US state of Washington and so not bound by the ACL.

On 23 December 2016, the Court fined Valve $3 million for its breaches: $2.2 million for the contraventions involving the Steam Subscriber Agreement and $800,000 for the contraventions involving the Steam Refund Policy.

This was in a context where, while,the number of accounts developed over the 3 year period of the misconduct, Valve had some 2.2 million Australian accounts (I.e, about $1.36 per account) and had received communications about refunds from over 21,000 accounts. What is more, despite its no refunds policy wording, it had actually paid refunds to some 15,000 accounts. Another factor was Valve’s high-handed approach to its legal position in Australia; apparently deciding it had no liability as a matter of policy without reference to Australian legal advice.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Valve Corporation (No 7) [2016] FCA 1553 (Edelman J)

Productivity Commission’s Final Report

Updated to fix some broken links

The Productivity Commissions’s final report into “Intellectual Property Arrangements” has been published.

An overview and  recommendations is here.

The full report is here.

The key points sign off with a stirring call to action – or harbinger of what’s to come:

Steely resolve will be needed to pursue better balanced IP arrangements.

The Government has announced it is undertaking further consultations with us about the Commission’s recommendations and wants to hear your views by 14 February 2017. I wonder how many bunches of roses they will receive?

 

Third party website blocking – down under

Nicholas J has published his reasons granting the film companies injunctions against the ISPs ordering them to block access to third party offshore “solarmovie”, pirate bay, torrenz, torrenthound and isotorrent sites.

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v Telstra Corporation Limited [2016] FCA 1503

Apportionment of liability for IP infringement

Beach J has ordered that Lucky Homes (the builder) and Mr Mistry (the owner) pay Henley Arch $34,400 by way of compensatory damages and, respectively, $25,000 and $10,000 additional damages. There was no apportionment of liability under the Wrongs Act. Instead, Beach J also ordered that the builder pay to Mr Mistry however much he pays of the compensatory damages and half of the additional damages he pays.

Time and space mean that this post will look at the apportionment issue. Issues arising from the damages findings may get covered in a later post.

Some facts

In 2010/2011, the Mistrys had Henley Arch build them a home. In 2013, they started negotiating with Henley Arch for it to build another home, their dream home, based on another Henley plan, the Amalfi. They requested, and Henley arranged for, a number of modifications to the basic plan. Their preferred facade would have cost $10,000 more than the “basic” facade.

In October 2013, just before they were to sign the final contracts with Henley, they were introduced to Lucky Homes. Lucky Homes was prepared to build the home with their preferred facade and “some” changes for pretty much the same price as the “basic” facade that Henley would build. The Mistrys got Lucky Homes to build the house for them instead.

Apportionment

Perhaps the point of most general application to all IP statutes is Beach J’s ruling that the state law provisions allowing liability to be apportioned between wrongdoers under s 24AI of the Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) had no application to copyright infringement.

As is often the case in these types of cases, the builder – Lucky Homes – says the owners – the Mistrys – told me they owned the copyright and, of course, the Mistrys claim Lucky Homes the builder said he would make sufficient changes that there would not be any copyright issue.

While not impressed with the witnesses for either camp, Beach J accepted the Mistrys’ version of events this time.

The Mistrys had provided Lucky Homes with a copy of Henley’s pro forma plan for the Amalfi rather than the customised version Henley had modified to meet their particular requirements. The pro forma plan had Henley’s copyright notice clearly marked on it. Mr Shafiq, for Lucky Homes, had annotated the pro forma plan with the various changes the Mistrys wished to make, such as converting a powder room to a prayer room. According to the Mistrys, Mr Shafiq told them he would make 15 or 20 changes so that the redesign would not infringe Henley’s copyright. Mr Shafiq had also tried to persuade the drafting service Lucky Homes used to lie about which drawings had been used as the starting point for the building plans.

Following the findings of infringement and how much damages would be, the first question was whether there was power to apportion liability.

The Copyright Act, like the other Commonwealth intellectual property statutes – the Patents Act 1990, the Trade Marks Act 1995, the Designs Act 2003, the Plant Breeders Rights Act 1994, does not include provisions to apportion liability.[1] So, the Mistrys invoked the Victorian Wrongs Act.

Section 24AF provides that an apportionable claim is:[2]

(a) a claim for economic loss or damage to property in an action for damages (whether in tort, in contract, under statute or otherwise) arising from a failure to take reasonable care; and

(b) a claim for damages for a contravention of section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law (Victoria).

Beach J said neither of these requirements were satisfied. In particular, at [266] a claim for copyright infringement is not a claim for failure to take reasonable care.[3] And at [267], the Mistry’s attempt to invoke s 87CD of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 was “misconceived”. Moreover, his Honour at [267] considered that the Copyright Act provides a complete scheme for a copyright owner to recover damages from both the primary infringer and an authoriser. Therefore, it “overrode” the provisions of the (State enacted) Wrongs Act.[4] Accordingly, apportionment was not possible. However, the respondents could (and did) cross-claim against each other.[5]

The cross-claims

Lucky Homes cross-claimed against the Mistrys on the basis that the building contract included a warranty and indemnity that the Mistrys owned the copyright in the plans they provided.

That didn’t get up in view of the copyright notice on the pro forma plans and the Judge’s acceptance of the Mistrys’ case that Lucky Homes through Mr Shafiq had claimed it could change the plans sufficiently to avoid infringement.

Conversely, those findings meant that the Mistrys’ cross-claim for misleading or deceptive conductive succeeded. Therefore, Beach J ruled that Lucky Homes should pay the Mistrys all of the moneys they paid to Henley on the compensatory damages.

Beach J also ordered Lucky Homes to pay Mr Mistry half the additional damages he pays. Mr Mistry was entitled only to damages for loss (i.e., here the additional damages he was ordered to pay to Henley) to the extent the loss was causally connected to Lucky Homes’ misleading or deceptive conduct. His Honour considered that much of Mr Mistry’s conduct that warranted the award of additional damages against Mr Mistry was not causally connected to Lucky Homes’ misleading or deceptive conduct. So, on a “rough and ready assessment … given the modest amounts involved” his Honour arrived at 50%.

Henley Arch Pty Ltd v Lucky Homes Pty Ltd [2016] FCA 1217


  1. Unlike s 236 of the Australian Consumer Law through s 87CD of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.  ?
  2. Disregarding irrelevant exceptions.  ?
  3. Don’t rush off to add negligence claims to your pleadings now. Although not referred to by Beach J (as it wasn’t in issue), s 24AF(3) says that the fact that a claim is an apportionable claim under s 24AF(1) does not limit liability under any other law. That appears to mean that liability for infringement would stand even if the negligence claim could be apportioned.  ?
  4. Presumably on the basis of s 109.  ?
  5. A practical consequence of this is that the copyright owner can get its money from either or both sets of respondents. That is, vis a vis Henley, both Lucky Homes and the Mistrys are on the hook for all the compensatory damages awarded. If only one has the money to pay the award, Henley could be paid the full amount by that party and the “paying” party would be left to try to recover a proportion from the impecunious respondent.  ?