The economists’ argument seems to have been that Larrikin didn’t lose any sales as a result of Men at Works’ infringements and so suffered no loss.
Damages under s 115(2) of the Copyright Act are compensatory: that is, they are calculated to compensate the copyright owner for the loss suffered as a result of the infringement. One way to measure that may be the profit the copyright owner lost on sales which typically applies where the copyright owner and the infringer are competing in the same market. One problem with this is that the figure for lost sales must be discounted to reflect infringements by the infringer which would never have been sales made by the copyright owner. So for example in Autodesk v Cheung, the infringer gave the pirate copies away for free while the copyright owner’s genuine software programs sold for hundreds of dollars.
Another measure often used is the licence fee approach, particularly applicable where the owner exploits the copyright by licensing. So, Autodesk wanted the licence fees it would have been paid as if Cheung had taken out a distribution agreement like its other distributors. Wilcox J was not prepared to order damages at a reasonable royalty level because, as is typically the case, there was no way Autodesk would have licensed Cheung or, for that matter, that Cheung would have paid for a licence from Autodesk. In that situation, Wilcox J felt that the basis for a reasonable royalty — the price a hypothetical willing (but not overly anxious) licensor and a hypothetical willing (but not overly anxious) licensee would have struck — could not apply.
While some courts at first instance have been willing to use a ‘reasonable royalty’ as a basis, Wilcox J’s concerns have been endorsed by Black CJ and Jacobson J in Aristocrat.
It is interesting to contrast this approach with the way the courts in the UK have dealt with it. Relying on some “old” patent cases (including a House of Lords decision), the Court of Appeal in Blayney (trading as Aardvark Jewellery) v Clogau St David’s Gold Mines was willing to use a “notional royalty” as the measure of the damages. The foundation of this approach was a rejection of the idea that the only loss suffered by the copyright owner was lost profits. Thus, in Watson, Laidlaw & Co Ltd v Pott, Cassels and Williamson (1914) 31 RPC 104, Lord Shaw expressed the principle:
wherever an abstraction or invasion of property has occurred, then, unless such abstraction or invasion were to be sanctioned by law, the law ought to yield a recompense under the category or principle, as I say, of price or hire. If A, being a liveryman, keeps his horse standing idle in the stable, and B, against his wish or without his knowledge, rides or drives it out, it is no answer to A for B to say: “Against what loss do you want to be restored? I restore the horse. There is no loss. The horse is none the worse; it is the better for the exercise.
and applied it in the context of patent infringement:
If with regard to the general trade which was done, or would have been done by the Respondents within their ordinary range of trade, damages be assessed, these ought, of course, to enter the account and to stand. But in addition there remains that class of business which the Respondents would not have done; and in such cases it appears to me that the correct and full measure is only reached by adding that a patentee is also entitled, on the principle of price or hire, to a royalty for the unauthorised sale or use of every one of the infringing machines in a market which the infringer, if left to himself, might not have reached. Otherwise, that property which consists in the monopoly of the patented articles granted to the patentee has been invaded, and indeed abstracted, and the law, when appealed to, would be standing by and allowing the invader or abstractor to go free. In such cases a royalty is an excellent key to unlock the difficulty, and I am in entire accord with the principle laid down by Lord Moulton in Meters Ld. v Metropolitan Gas Meters Ld. (28 R.P.C. 163). Each of the infringements was an actionable wrong, and although it may have been committed in a range of business or of territory which the patentee might not have reached, he is entitled to hire or royalty in respect of each unauthorised use of his property. Otherwise, the remedy might fall unjustly short of the wrong.
The Meters case was referred to by Wilcox J, but it does not seem that Watson, Laidlaw was cited to his Honour.
Now, of course, the 19th century considerations of a horse owner and “borrower” seem “quaint” in the age of Gogle and P2P torrents. But is the principle really so different?
It appears that the third member of the Court in Aristocrat, Rares J, may well have been willing to adopt the Watson, Laidlaw approach, but the evidence failed to provide a basis for any “judicial” estimate.