Posts Tagged ‘authorisation’

Another copyright in project homes case

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Some 5 years after it went hunting, Tamawood[1] has successfully sued Habitare (now with administrators and receivers and managers appointed) for infringing copyright in house plans.

Copyright in some plans was infringed (Torrington v Duplex 1 & Duplex B); but not in others (Conondale / Dunkeld v Duplex 2 & Duplex A).

One point of interest: Habitare commissioned Tamawood to develop plans for 2 new houses for it. These plans were submitted to the Brisbane City Council to obtain development approvals. The relationship with Tamawood broke down, however, and Habitare continued to use the plans. Collier J found that the “usual” (i.e. Beck v Montana)[2] implied licence did not apply here. It did not apply because Tamawood did not get paid the “usual” fee for doing the job: rather, it agreed to prepare the drawings at no cost on the basis that it would build the houses once development approval had been obtained. Once the deal fell through and Habitare decided not to proceed with Tamawood as the builder, therefore, its rights to use the plans terminated.

Continuing with the licensing theme, Mondo (which Habitare eventually used to design the houses in dispute) did infringe copyright by creating the infringing plans Duplex 1 and Duplex B plans. It did not infringe Tamawood’s copyright, however, when it downloaded the Torrington plans from Tamawood’s website. Tamawood made the plans available on its website for the whole world to see and download so Collier J considered Mondo’s purpose in using the downloaded plans to design competing houses was not relevant.[3]

(Mondo did succeed in its cross-claim against Habitare and 2 of its principals for misleading or deceptive conduct: they told Mondo that the copyright issues with Tamawood had been sorted out or resolved.)

A second point of interest is that the builder of Habitare’s infringing houses, Bloomer Constructions, successfully made out the “innocent infringer” defence provided by s 115(3). Cases where this defence has been relied on successfully are as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. It seems to have been because the builder became involved very late in the day: it had no knowledge of Tamawood’s involvement in the earlier stages and the plans it was provided with had Mondo’s name or title block.

Finally, a curiosity: the reasoning on authorisation liability manages not to refer to Roadshow v iiNet at all, but refers extensively to University of NSW v Moorhouse. In the event, Habitare apparently conceded it would be liable for authorising the infringements of the others. Two of its principal officers, Mr Peter O’Mara and a David Johnson, managed to escape liability, however. While they were heavily involved in the business, their involvement was mainly on the finance side rather than sales and marketing. Collier J seems to have found that, within Habitare, responsibility for the conduct that infringed had devolved on to 2 other officers, Shane O’Mara – Peter O’Mara’s son – and a Mr Speer. Her Honour also considered that, by engaging Mondo as architects, Peter O’Mara and Johnson took “reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the infringing act”.[4]

Tamawood Limited v Habitare Developments Pty Ltd (Administrators Appointed) (Receivers and Managers Appointed) (No 3) [2013] FCA 410


  1. Yes, it is that Tamawood.  ?
  2. See _e.g. Concrete Constructions_ at [71] – [75] per Kirby and Crennan JJ).  ?
  3. There is no discussion in the judgment of whether Tamawood’s website included a notice purporting to limit the use of the site, for example, to “personal use” or “private and non-commercial use” (whatever either of those may mean) or in any other way.  ?
  4. See s 36(1A)(c). No claim for authorisation or procurement appears to have been pursued against Shane O’Mara or Speer.  ?

Roadshow: second look

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Now I’ve had some time to look at the Roadshow decision, I think it falls near the territory of the House of Lords’ Amstrad ruling but doesn’t go as far as the Supreme Court of Canada’s CCH Canada ruling.

The only issue before the High Court was whether or not iiNet (the ISP) was liable for authorising the infringements of copyright committed by 11 of its subscribers, who made available online various infringing copies of films through BitTorrent (even though it can be used for lawful purposes, I think I’ll let you go find your own copy if you’re so inclined). Given that iiNet had no role in BitTorrent, its subscribers’ choices to use BitTorrent or what they downloaded with BitTorrent, the film companies sought to put iiNet’s liability on the basis that (at [5]):

  • the provision by iiNet to its customers (and to other users of those customers’ accounts) of access to the internet, which can be used generally and, in particular, to access the BitTorrent system;
  • the infringement of the copyright in the appellants’ films by customers of iiNet who have made the films available online in whole or in part using the BitTorrent system;
  • the knowledge by iiNet of specific infringements, as drawn to its attention by notices from the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (“AFACT”), representing the appellants;
  • the technical and contractual power of iiNet to terminate the provision of its services to customers infringing copyright; and
  • the failure by iiNet to take reasonable steps to warn identified infringing customers to cease their infringements and, if appropriate, to terminate the provision of its services to them. [1]

As you no doubt know by now, the High Court ruled unanimously that iiNet did not auhorise the infringements of the film companies’ copyrights.

The first thing to note is we’ve got those 2 teams giving separate judgments again: (French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ; Gummow and Hayne JJ). Not quite sure where that is going although 2 members of team 1 will still be there after June 2013.

Next, all 5 judges agreed whether someone is liable for authorising is largely a question of fact to be determined in all the circumstances.

Then, despite what we had all thought since Moorhouse, all 5 judges agree that “authorise” does not mean “sanction, approve, countenance”. “Countenance” in particular includes connotations which ‘are remote from the reality of authorisation which the statute contemplates’ (at [68]) and go well beyond the ’core notion of “authorise”’ (at [125]).

Instead, in deciding whether or not there has been an authorisation all 5 judges directed attention to the 3 criteria specified in 101(1A) and 36(1A):

(a) the extent (if any) of the person’s power to prevent the doing of the act concerned;

(b) the nature of any relationship existing between the person and the person who did the act concerned;

(c) whether the person took any other reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the act, including whether the person complied with any relevant industry codes of practice.

All 5 judges recognise that the 3 s 101(1A) criteria are not exhaustive; they are the starting point (at [68]) and essential (at [135]), however, in this case at least they are the only criteria considered.

In applying these 3 factors, the 2 judgments reach pretty much the same conclusions:

(78) The extent of iiNet’s power was limited to an indirect power to prevent a customer’s primary infringement of the appellants’ films by terminating the contractual relationship between them. The information contained in the AFACT notices, as and when they were served, did not provide iiNet with a reasonable basis for sending warning notices to individual customers containing threats to suspend or terminate those customers’ accounts. For these reasons, iiNet’s inactivity after receipt of the AFACT notices did not give rise to an inference of authorisation (by “countenancing” or otherwise) of any act of primary infringement by its customers.

(146) The present case is not one where the conduct of the respondent’s business was such that the primary infringements utilising BitTorrent were “bound” to happen in the sense apparent in Evans v E Hulton & Co Ltd[165], and discussed earlier in these reasons[166]. Further, iiNet only in an attenuated sense had power to “control” the primary infringements utilising BitTorrent. It was not unreasonable for iiNet to take the view that it need not act upon the incomplete allegations of primary infringements in the AFACT Notices without further investigation which it should not be required itself to undertake, at its peril of committing secondary infringement.

These conclusions, however, summarise the results of a very multi-faceted and many layered inquiry. Any “power” that iiNet had was too “indirect” or “attenuated” essentially because:

  • iiNet had no involvement in BitTorrent or a user’s choice to use BitTorrent or what the user used BitTorrent for;
  • unlike Grokster (pdf) and Kazaa, iiNet did not encourage its users to use BitTorrent or seek to profit specifically from their infringing use;
  • iiNet did have a contractual power to suspend or terminate an account for breach (including for copyright infringement) but:
    • its obligation was to provide internet access which could be used for non-infringing or infringing purposes, not just infringing purposes;
    • terminating an account would not stop the user just using a different account, possibly with a different ISP;
    • iiNet would be liable for breach of contract if it suspended or terminated a user in response to an allegation and it turned out the user was not in fact infringing copyright. [2]

A third consideration highlighted in both judgments was the inadequate notice of infringements given through the AFACT notices. Remember, in keeping with Gibbs J, [3] the film companies argued that iiNet had knowledge that its requirement that users not infringe copyright was being ignored.

It was accepted that iiNet knew that more than half of its user’s usage involved BitTorrent (although not all of that constituted infringements). (at [38], [92]; but iiNet was no different to any other ISP in that regard).

The film companies also sent iiNet on a weekly basis AFACT notices which purported to set out information about subscriber’s accounts that were being used to communicate infringing copies. By the trial, iiNet accepted that these AFACT notices did in fact identify infringements. There were, however, a number of problems.

Most importantly, when the notices were sent, there was no explanation of how they were prepared or how they worked (not that that would have made any difference to how iiNet would have treated them) [4]; it was only after discovery and provision of expert evidence that iiNet could understand them sufficiently to accept their veracity ([34] and [75], [138]).

This raises the question: what is iiNet’s situation now that it has had explained to it and accepted as reliable the AFACT notices? That seems rather less clear.

The ‘reasonableness’ of iiNet’s inaction was at least in part predicated on its lack of knowledge given the problems with the AFACT notices.

First, French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ say at [69], however,  that there cannot be liability for authorisation without power to prevent the primary infringement and, as already noted, any such power is lacking or too indirect. Gummow and Hayne JJ do not make so explicit a statement (and their Honours endorse imposition of liability where infringement is “bound” to happen). Nonetheless, their Honours do at several points emphasise the presence or absence of control, or direct power to control, the primary infringement as key facts. For example, [127] and in contrast to Moorhouse at [144] from which iiNet’s situation was “well removed”.

Secondly, the High Court seemed very reluctant to leave iiNet with the burden of having to check back to see whether a particular user was still infringing particularly in circumstances where it would have been dependent on the use of the film companies’ technology to do so. So French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ said:

(74) Whatever responses iiNet received to warnings, iiNet would be obliged to update the investigative exercise underlying the AFACT notices either itself or by reference to subsequent AFACT notices (allowing an appropriate interval for compliance with a request to cease infringement) before proceeding further.

(75) Updating the investigative exercise in the AFACT notices would require iiNet to understand and apply DtecNet’s methodology – which, among other things, involved a permission to DtecNet from AFACT to use the BitTorrent system to download the appellants’ films. Before the filing of experts’ reports in the proceedings, the information in the AFACT notices did not approximate the evidence which would be expected to be filed in civil proceedings in which interlocutory relief was sought by a copyright owner in respect of an allegation of copyright infringement. Also, any wrongful termination of a customer’s account could expose iiNet to risk of liability. These considerations highlight the danger to an ISP, which is neither a copyright owner nor a licensee, which terminates (or threatens to terminate) a customer’s internet service in the absence of any industry protocol binding on all ISPs, or any, even interim, curial assessment of relevant matters.[5]

Thirdly, both judgments refer with approval to the Blank Tapes case and the majority’s recognition there that manufacturers of products such as blank tapes and video recorders, which have both lawful and unlawful uses, will not be liable for authorising copyright infringement even if they know it is likely that their products will be used to commit infringements (at [53] and [130]).

Both judgments conclude with calls for the legislature and/or co-operative industry codes to deal with the challenges these issues pose. It had seemed that a co-operative industry code required the near death experience in the Full Federal Court for motivation, but at least the 5 major ISPs kept plugging away.

Finally, what is the status of Moorhouse itself? Here the difference with Amstrad and CCH Canadian comes clearest. The House of Lords plainly thought Moorhouse was a copyright liability too far and, as the Roadshow High Court interpreted the judgment, limited authorisation to cases where the defendant granted, or purported to grant, the primary infringer the right to do the infringing act. The Supreme Court of Canada went even further and held that a law library was not liable for authorising infringements by photocopying in largely similar circumstances to Moorhouse (if one can overlook any difference between a reference library for lawyers and a university library). In contrast, the Roadshow High Court explained that the University was liable in Moorhouse because of the extent of its control over the photocopier, the books and the primary infringer’s activities: the circumstances in Roadshow were “well removed” from those in which liability was imposed on the University (at [144], see also [69]). This approach may reflect the legislative codification of criteria from Gibbs J’s judgment, but it also reflects the way iiNet put its case (at [60] – [61]).

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd [2012] HCA 16


  1. Slightly different formulation by Gummow and Hayne JJ at [142].  ?
  2. [66] – [70], [73]; [139] Gummow and Hayne JJ go so far as to point out that termination would deny the user access to the internet for non-infringing activities. Despite the criticisms directed at Higgins J’s opinion in Adelaide Corporation, all 5 judges appear to agree with his Honour’s view that a right to terminate a contract was wholly disproportionate (but, of course, there are all those other factors to, er, factor in). The Grokster / Kazaa point is made explicitly only by Gummow and Hayne JJ at [101]  ?
  3. See e.g. at [58] and at [14] in austlii’s online version of Moorhouse.  ?
  4. See the evidence recounted by Jagot J at [308] – [318] in the Full Court.  ?
  5. See also the summary of iiNet’s argument at [62] and Gummow and Hayne JJ at [138] – [139] and [143].  ?

Roadshow v iiNet

Friday, April 20th, 2012

The High Court has unanimously dismissed Roadshow’s appeal in the case against iiNet.

On a first look, there are some references suggesting that our law is being brought back in line with the UK (CBS v Amstrad) and Canada (CCH Canada v Law Society of Upper Canada). Consideration will have to await further review.

Although unanimous, there are 2 judgments: as in iceTV, French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ in one and Gummow and Hayne JJ in the second.

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd [2012] HCA 16

Inducing patent infringement in the USA

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The US Supreme Court has ruled that liability for inducing infringement of a patent under US law requires knowledge of the patent or something called ‘wilful blindness’ to the patent’s existence.

Patently-O summarises and includes a link to download Global-Tech Appliances, inc. v. SEB S.A.

Now, I do know that their law is different to our law.

For a start, under our law infringement can lie in ‘authorising’ the infringer, not (just) inducing the infringement or that idea of contributory infringement – the patentee’s exclusive rights under s 13 include the right to authorise someone to exploit the patent as well as to exploit the patent.

In Ramset, the Full Court traced the old case law: you couldn’t be liable for ‘merely facilitating’ someone else to infringe by supplying materials to them, even if you knew they were going to use them to infringe. If your involvement was sufficient to amount to a common design, or procuring their infringement, however, which generally seemed to presuppose some knowledge of the patent – you could be liable.

Ramset itself knew of the patent’s existence in 1987, several years before it issued the brochure with instructions on how to assemble its product and use it in a way that infringed.

But, on general principles, liability for authorisation requires two elements: (1) that someone has done something which infringes the patent (or threatens to do so in a quia timet case) and (2) the alleged authoriser has done something, or may be supplied something, to entice (to use yet another synonym), induce, persuade or encourage the first person to do that infringing conduct.

The first person, the primary infringer, can be liable even if they do not know that there is a patent – they might escape liability for damages or an account in view of their innocence: see s 123. Why shouldn’t that also apply to the alleged authoriser. Indeed, s 123 would seem equally applicable to the alleged authoriser. And that indeed is the position that Bennett J has reached in Inverness Medical Switzerland GmbH v MDS Diagnostics Pty Ltd [2010] FCA 108, for example.

The copyright cases on authorisation go so far as to hold that, at least in some circumstances, a person who stands by with knowledge that infringing conduct is occurring, or may be is likely to occur, will be liable as an authoriser where they have power to do something about it. Perhaps, we’ll get a better understanding of what is the quality of that power to do something if the High Court grants special leave to Roadshow in the iiNet case.

Roadshow v iiNet

Friday, March 25th, 2011

The film studios have announced they have sought special leave to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s 2-1 decision dismissing their claim that iiNet infringed their copyright by ‘authorising’ its subscribers’ infringing activities.

AFACT press release

iiNet press release.

Meanwhile, the iiA is still working on a workable solution for the future.

Roadshow v iiNet 2

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Last month, iiNet (by the skin of its teeth) avoided being found liable for authorising the P2P infringing activities of users of its internet access services.

Kim Weatherall and Ass. Pro. David Brennan provide their respective initial takes here and here.

Perhaps in recognition that iiNet (and pretty much any other ISP) will be in big trouble if they sit on their hands when the next letter of demand comes in from AFACT notice comes in, Meanwhile on 11 March, the Internet Industries Association has announced that it is “fastracking” development of an industry code to deal with copyright infringement.

iiNet still wins

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Appeal dismissed:

Roadshow Films Pty Limited v iiNet Limited [2011] FCAFC 23

SMH report

However, Jagot J dissented and Emmett J warned:

Even though the Copyright Owners are not entitled to the relief claimed in this proceeding, it does not follow that that is an end of the matter.  It is clear that the questions raised in the proceeding are ongoing.  It does not necessarily follow that there would never be authorisation within the meaning of s 101 of the Copyright Act by a carriage service provider, where a user of the services provided by the carriage service provider engages in acts of infringement such as those about which complaint is made in this proceeding.  It does not necessarily follow from the failure of the present proceeding that circumstances could not exist whereby iiNet might in the future be held to have authorised primary acts of infringement on the part of users of the services provided to its customers under its customer service agreements.

Lid dip: Sarah Matheson

ISPs, authorisation and copyright DownUnder

Friday, February 5th, 2010

In case you have been on Mars, or locked in a conference room writing submissions, you have probably heard that the Federal Court has rejected the music industry’s attempt to impose liability on iiNet, and ISP, for copyright infringement by authorising the infringing activities of users of its network.

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Limited (No. 3) [2010] FCA 24 (636 para judgment) here.

Since I will find myself still locked in aforesaid conference room, I’ll simply quote (at this stage) from the 21 para summary:

 

The first step in making a finding of authorisation was to determine whether certain iiNet users infringed copyright. I have found that they have. However, in reaching that finding, I have found that the number of infringements that have occurred are significantly fewer than the number alleged by the applicants. This follows from my finding that, on the evidence and on a proper interpretation of the law, a person makes each film available online only once through the BitTorrent system and electronically transmits each film only once through that system. This excludes the possible case of a person who might repeatedly download the same file, but no evidence was presented of such unusual and unlikely circumstance. Further, I have found, on the evidence before me, that the iiNet users have made one copy of each film and have not made further copies onto physical media such as DVDs.
The next question was whether iiNet authorised those infringements. While I find that iiNet had knowledge of infringements occurring, and did not act to stop them, such findings do not necessitate a finding of authorisation. I find that iiNet did not authorise the infringements of copyright of the iiNet users. I have reached that conclusion for three primary reasons.
Looks like there will also be interesting obvservations on the operation of the Telecommunications Act and the role of iiNet’s policy vis a vis repeat offenders.

Howard Knopf and Michael Geist look at the decision from Canadian perspectives.

Google and facilitating or authorising

Monday, July 20th, 2009

DesignTechnica operates bulletin boards. The plaintiff alleged that some postings on the bulletin boards defamed it. In addition to suing DesignTechnica, the plaintiff sued Google for libel by reproducing snippets of the (allegedly) defamatory material in search results.

Eady J, sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division,  dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against Google on the grounds that Google did not publish the material.

The case obviously turns on the requirements for an action in defamation. Of potential interest in an intellectual property context, however, is that his Lordship noted that the generation of the snippets was automatic, not volitional. Thus, his Lordship analagised Google’s position to the position of someone who merely ‘facilitated’ infringing intellectual property conduct rather than ‘authorised’ it.

In the course of his judgment, his Lordship explained:

54.  The next question is whether the legal position is, or should be, any different once the Third Defendant has been informed of the defamatory content of a “snippet” thrown up by the search engine. In the circumstances before Morland J, in Godfrey v Demon Internet, the acquisition of knowledge was clearly regarded as critical. That is largely because the law recognises that a person can become liable for the publication of a libel by acquiescence; that is to say, by permitting publication to continue when he or she has the power to prevent it. As I have said, someone hosting a website will generally be able to remove material that is legally objectionable. If this is not done, then there may be liability on the basis of authorisation or acquiescence.

55.  A search engine, however, is a different kind of Internet intermediary. It is not possible to draw a complete analogy with a website host. One cannot merely press a button to ensure that the offending words will never reappear on a Google search snippet: there is no control over the search terms typed in by future users. If the words are thrown up in response to a future search, it would by no means follow that the Third Defendant has authorised or acquiesced in that process.

In addition, Eady J noted that Google had promptly blocked access to specific URLs, but could not reasonably be expected to block all search results which could include the (allegedly) infringing snippets.

Metropolitan International Schools Ltd v DesignTechnica [2009] EWHC 1765 (QB).

Lid dip: Prof Goldman

ASCAP, AT&T and ringtones

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

ASCAP is suing AT&T in the USA for copyright infringements when an AT&T subscriber’s phone plays a ringtone. ASCAP is a collecting society for public performance and broadcast rights. It alleges that when the subscriber receives a phone call in, say, a restaurant and the phone plays a ringtone it is a performance in public that needs a licence.

Fred Lohman from the EFF says this claim is doomed in America. Their copyright act has §110(4) that excludes from the public performance right ‘performances made “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage.”‘

Why wouldn’t Telstra or Optus or, for that matter, Apple be liable in Australia if APRA or PPCA came calling?

We don’t have a §110(4) so, if you were in a restaurant or walking down Collins St in rush hour and your phone started playing a ringtone you had installed, you the phone owner wouldn’t be able to use Fred Lohman’s escape clause.

So could the phone company or Apple or whoever sold you the ringtone potentially be liable for authorising your infringement (if it be an infringement)? If we are still living in the world where Telstra was liable for the music on hold played by users of Telstra’s network (before the Act was changed by the Digital Agenda Act), the question doesn’t seem so fanciful?

The phone company or whoever could presumably be liable only on the basis of authorising the phone user’s conduct which would have to be infringing in itself. Now, liability for authorisation may not be a foregone conclusion; but in Cooper, the ISP was liable at least in part because it could have prevented the website even operating. Would it make a difference if the alleged authoriser just provided the phone or the ringtone?

One argument might be that if you, the subscriber, paid for and downloaded something described as a “ringtone”, there must be an implied licence. Maybe. But in an awful lot of cases, the person who can give you rights to download and store the ringtone on your phone will not have rights to license the performance right – that right will have been assigned to, you guessed it, APRA or another collecting society. Although APRA and AMCOS now seem to be “almost” the same entity.

Surely, a court would find that, although the ringtone might be heard incidentally in public by unwitting passersby or bystanders, the playing of the ringtone was really in private? Well, maybe. But then why have those exceptions in the Act for incidental uses of things like artistic works in public places (s 65) or reading or recitation of reasonable portions of published literary or dramatic works (s 45)? (At least, you wouldn’t have to pay a licence fee for the lyrics!) and making temporary copies as part of a technical process of use (s 111B)? And there is a specific statutory licence for the playing in public of sound recordings (s 108).

Maybe a court could be persuaded to look a little more liberally at whether or not a ringtone is a substantial part of the original recording? A ringtone afterall can only be 30 seconds in duration. This seems very unlikely given that 8 bars of  Colonel Bogey infringed.

Is there something wrong with the way we legislate specific exceptions for specific technological problems?