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.
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.
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. So, the Mistrys invoked the Victorian Wrongs Act.
(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  a claim for copyright infringement is not a claim for failure to take reasonable care. And at , the Mistry’s attempt to invoke s 87CD of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 was “misconceived”. Moreover, his Honour at  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. Accordingly, apportionment was not possible. However, the respondents could (and did) cross-claim against each other.
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  FCA 1217
- Unlike s 236 of the Australian Consumer Law through s 87CD of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. ?
- Disregarding irrelevant exceptions. ?
- 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. ?
- Presumably on the basis of s 109. ?
- 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. ?