A case about works of artistic craftsmanship

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t!

State of Escape (SOE) sells the Escape bag:

2 images of a soft carry-all tote bag in blue perforated neoprene with sailing rope handles; one image with the sides expanded; the other closed.

SOE claimed Ms Schwartz and her company, Chuchka, were infringing copyright in the Escape bag as a work of artistic craftsmanship by importing and selling the Chuchka bags. SOE also alleged that the sale of the Chuchka bags was misleading or deceptive conduct and passing off.

Despite Ms Schwartz’ denials, Davies J found that the Chuchka bag was copied from the Escape bag and, if copyright subsisted in the Escape bag, numerous versions of the Chuckha bag would be infringements. SOE did not have a registered design and SOE was selling at least 50 or 60 Escape bags a day. So, subsistence of copyright came down to whether or not the Escape bag was a work of artistic craftsmanship.[1]

The Escape Bag

The Escape bag is a soft, oversized tote bag. It is made from perforated neoprene fabric with handles made from sailing rope which wrap around the body and base of the bag. It also has an internal, detachable pouch made from perforated neoprene and press studs at either end for expansion.

The bags are made by hand. They feature hand punched holes where the rope goes in, a heat seal tape finish along the top line of the bag and other contact points.

The Escape bag was designed over several months of trial and error in 2013 by Ms MacGowan who, with Ms Maidment, is a co-founder and director of SOE.

Ms MacGowan gave evidence that she designed the bag to be both beautiful and practical. She chose perforated neoprene as it was aesthetically pleasing and light:

The bag did not have any lining. I did not want it to have any embellishments. I did not want anything disguising something that was not beautiful. I wanted the whole thing to be beautifully created. I hand cut all the patterns. I wanted the inside to be as beautiful as the outside. I wanted to challenge ingrained ideas that a bag had to be a certain way. My focus was, ‘This is what it is’. I did not want the bag to be like something else. Everything in the design had to be there for a reason. For instance, there was a risk that binding could ruin the curve of the bag. I ended up putting binding on the top edge because I was concerned it would fray. There were a lot of things that I felt strongly about.

Ms MacGowan said she did not want to use leather or webbing for the handles as she considered they did not fit with the design aesthetic. She spent many months with her sewing machine working out how to fix the rope to the bag so it retained its round profile and was not merely glued. Ms MacGowan explained:

It really complemented the neoprene beautifully. And also it was very important that I had to find rope that matched back with the fabric beautifully because it was really about creating an impression of the whole than the individual parts. So that was also very, very important.

Ms MacGowan’s evidence explained design issues she had to confront and resolve including:

  • how to sew the rope on to the bag rather than glue it;
  • how to stop the fabric from ripping at pressure points where the rope joined the bag;
  • stopping the raw cut neoprene edges at the top of the bag from fraying;
  • reinforcing the pressure points under the press studs and rope entry points;
  • using a glue lined heat shrink black tubing to fix the rope to the bottom of the bag;
  • attaching the rope to the four bottom corners which would otherwise be exposed to the risk of damage;
  • providing a pocket for valuables;
  • finishing the inside seams to look like the rest of the bag.

Burge v Swarbrick

At [77], Davies J and counsel for the parties managed to divine nine guiding principles from the High Court’s decision in Burge v Swarbrick to determine whether the Escape bag qualifed as a work of artistic craftsmanship:

(a) the phrase “a work of artistic craftsmanship” is a composite phrase to be construed as a whole: Burge at 357 56, 360 [66]. It is not permissible to inquire separately into whether a work is: (a) artistic; and (b) the manifestation of craftsmanship;

(b) in order to qualify as a work of artistic craftsmanship under the Copyright Act, the work must have a “real or substantial artistic element”: Burge at 356 52;

(c) “artistic craftsmanship” does not mean “artistic handicraft”: Burge at 358 59;

(d) a prototype may be a work of artistic craftsmanship “even though it was to serve the purpose of reproduction and then be discarded”: Burge at 359 60;

(e) the requirements for “craftsmanship” and “artistic” are not incompatible with machine production: Burge at 358–9 5960;

(f) whilst there is a distinction between fine arts and useful or applied arts, when dealing with artistic craftsmanship there is no antithesis between utility and beauty or between function and art: Burge at 359 61;

(g) a work of craftsmanship, even though it cannot be confined to handicraft, “at least presupposes special training, skill and knowledge for its production… ‘Craftsmanship’… implies a manifestation of pride and sound workmanship – a rejection of the shoddy, the meretricious, the facile”: Burge at 359 61, citing George Hensher Ltd v Restawile Upholstery (Lancs) Ltd [1976] AC 64 (Hensher) at 91 per Lord Simon;

(h) although the matter is to be determined objectively, evidence from the creator of the work of his or her aspirations or intentions when designing and constructing the work is admissible, but it is neither determinative nor necessary: Burge at 360 [63]–65. In determining whether the creator intended to, and did, create a work possessing the requisite aesthetic quality and requisite degree of craftsmanship, the Court should weigh the creator’s evidence together with any expert evidence: Burge at 360 64 and 65; and

(i) in considering whether a work is one of “artistic craftsmanship”, the beauty or aesthetic appeal of the work is not determinative. The Court must also weigh in the balance the extent to which functional considerations have dictated the artistic expression in the form of the work: Burge at 364 8384.

Having set out the High Court’s statement of principle at 83, Davies J emphasised at [79] the High Court’s factual conclusion at [73] in application of that principle:

Taken as a whole and considered objectively, the evidence, at best, shows that matters of visual and aesthetic appeal were but one of a range of considerations in the design of the Plug. Matters of visual and aesthetic appeal necessarily were subordinated to achievement of the purely functional aspects required for a successfully marketed “sports boat” and thus for the commercial objective in view.

The Escape bag was not a work of artistic craftsmanship

Ms MacGowan’s evidence at [84] was that “the overall appearance of the bag as an object was fundamentally the most important thing.” She explained that “simplicity, beauty and originality” were her guiding principles:

“something free of embellishments, that was so pure in its form, structure and makeup that it embodied beauty in simplicity.”

SOE’s expert, a Ms Beale, agreed; considering the Escape bag “unique”. In cross-examination, however, she accepted that the uniqueness arose from the “decision decision” to use perforated neoprene and sailing rope “rather than in any contribution to the creation of those underlying materials.”

Ms Schwarz’ expert, Mr Smith, considered the use of perforated neoprene and sailing rope to be “strong design features”, but neither of them in itself was “new”. Mr Smith considered that combining 2 or more features that had been in common use over many years “[was] an evolution in styling rather than a completely new design”.

While Davies J reported that the experts agreed the Escape bag was a quality product, at [105] her Honour reported the experts agreeing that:

the Escape Bag is constructed using a standard construction method of “stitched together and then turned out” and other elements conform to what is generally expected of this style of bag – significant skill, training or knowledge was not required beyond what was expected in the design or manufacturing process”.

Davies J accepted that Ms MacGowan aspired to produce something of beauty, but that was not determinative as, following Burge, whether something was a work of artistic craftsmanship had to be determined objectively. At [109], her Honour declared that assessment required looking at the bag as a whole and “not by disintegrating the design choices made by Ms MacGowan within the functional limitations of the bag she created.” (emphasis supplied) While Ms MacGowan set out to design a stylish bag, at [110] her Honour found that “the function and utility of the bag as a carry all bag governed the overall design of the bag.”

Davies J considered on the evidence that significant design features resulted from and served functional considerations.

In the result, Davies J considered that, in designing the Escape bag, Ms MacGowan was not an “artist-craftsperson”: she had no special training, skill and knowledge relating to the design of handbags. The central aesthetic choices were the decisions to use perforated neoprene and sailing rope. Those two choices alone were not sufficient to constitute the resulting bag as a work of artistic craftsmanship.

At [121] – [122], her Honour explained:

[121] I also accept the submission for the respondents that Ms MacGowan did not approach the design and manufacture of the Escape Bag as an artist-craftsperson. She had no special training, skill and knowledge relating to the design and manufacture of handbags and many of the issues she encountered were purely functional in nature – for example, preventing the raw edges of neoprene from fraying, reinforcing the point where the rope handle enters the bag, and how to sew the sailing rope onto the bag while retaining the roundness of the rope.

[122] Further, I do not regard the selection and use of perforated neoprene as the fabric for the Escape Bag or its use in combination with sailing rope as involving an act of artistic craftsmanship. Both materials were readily available commercial materials capable of being used to manufacture a carry all bag without some particular training, skill or knowledge. At its highest, the use of those materials to make an everyday bag was an evolution in styling. Whilst Ms Beale was of the view the combination of those materials made the Escape Bag “unique” she accepted in cross-examination that the uniqueness to which she referred related to “design decision” to use those materials, rather than in any contribution to the creation of those materials.

At one level, the decision can be seen as raising a high bar for designs applying the “form follows function” theory of design rather the embellishment of embellishment’s sake. That seems to follow, however, from Burge. The suggestion that “revolution” rather than “evolution” is required might also be thought concerning.

While Davies J emphasised at [121] the functional nature of issues to be resolved, one might question the ways they could be resolved and the aesthetic choices that might be involved.

There may also be troubling aspects of the level of skill required to be demonstrated. The experts agreed that the level of skill exhibited by Ms MacGowan was not “beyond what was expected in the design or manufacturing process”. Are then works of artistic craftsmanship limited only to those exhibiting rare levels of skill? It is important to remember that the point of protecting works of artistic craftsmanship is to encourage real artistic effort by silversmiths, potters, woodworkers, hand-embroiderers and many others whose work does not qualify as a sculpture, engraving, drawing, painting or any of the other categories named in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the definition of artistic work.[2]

In that respect, it does not appear that Ms MacGowan could be characterised as an “artist-craftsperson”. Davies J appears to have considered that the innovation lay in the choice of materials – perforated neoprene and sailing rope – in an otherwise fairly standard bag design. In that case, the result should be uncontroversial especially as the objective was always large scale production.

Nonetheless, the decision highlights yet again the problematic decision to include what was intended to be an expansive, and expanding, category of subject matter as an exception to a defence.

On the “passing off” related allegations, Davies J (mercifully) found SOE did not a reputation in the features of the bag alone reputation. Her Honour also considered, where the competing bags sold for around, respectively, $300 and $100, the branding of the products brought into play the well-known principle from Parkdale v Puxu:

Speaking generally, the sale by one manufacturer of goods which closely resemble those of another manufacturer is not a breach of s 52 if the goods are properly labelled. There are hundreds of ordinary articles of consumption which, although made by different manufacturers and of different quality, closely resemble one another… the normal and reasonable way to distinguish one product from another is by marks, brands or labels. If an article is properly labelled so as to show the name of the manufacturer or the source of the article its close resemblance to another article will not mislead an ordinary reasonable member of the public.

State of Escape Accessories Pty Limited v Schwartz [2020] FCA 1606


  1. See Copyright Act 1968 s 77 and see paragraph (c) in the definition of artistic work in s 10(1). Copyright was claimed in the first, finished bag Ms MacGowan made or, alternatively, the first 8 bags supplied to the first customer. At [47], the first finished bag differed from the 8 bags supplied to the customer in that it did not include heat shrinkable tubing, the internal pouch was differently designed and there was no branding.  ?
  2. See paragraph 260 of the Gregory Committee report quoted by the High Court in Burge at para. 49  ?

Another get-up case gets up

The get-up for Homart’s CHÉRI ovine bio-placenta product has been held to misrepresent an association with Careline’s CHANTELLE product.

Chantelle

 

Chéri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, you might be thinking that CHÉRI marks out Homart’s product from CHANTELLE rather plainly. But the dreaded Red Bull and Peter Bodum cases reared their heads again.

Sales of Careline’s CHANTELLE product had exploded after it adopted its current get-up: from between $25,000 to $60,000 per year to over $2 million in between June 2014 and early 2016 when Homart introduced its competing product.

Homart’s get-up was nothing like the other products in its CHÉRI range. Its get-up was much closer than any other competing product to Careline’s. The boxes of the products were often displayed in stores stacked, with the lid of the top box open so that customers could see the contents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accordingly, the branding on Homart’s product was often not visible, at least initially. CHÉRI itself was not thought to be a particularly distinctive mark, especially as both CHANTELLE and CHÉRI began with the same “shhh” pronunciation. Burley J could not accept the explanation for the adoption of the get-up advanced by Homart’s designer.

After a very careful consideration of the evidence, his Honour summarised:

194 The unique combination of features making up the get-up of the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product are eye-catching. They extend to the packaging in open or closed configuration and provide strong visual cues by which a consumer would note and remember the product. From this combination, quite separately to the name, the consumer is informed of the origin, quality and type of goods being purchased. Homart has taken all of those cues.

195 The suggestion conveyed by the get-up is not, in my view, dispelled sufficiently by the use of the CHÉRI Australia brand name. The name CHÉRI Australia is a relatively weak mark for distinguishing otherwise identical products because:

(a) such reputation as Homart has in the mark CHÉRI is weak and has been significantly dissipated by reason of Homart’s choice to use it in packaging distinctly different to the products in the balance of the CHÉRI range (see section 9 above);

(b) the phonetic and visual similarities between the first letters of both the CHÉRI and CHANTELLE marks diminish the effect of the use of different words (see [85] above). In this context both Chantelle and Chéri are French sounding names. Both commence with “Ch…”. To persons not familiar with French, they are likely to be weak means of distinguishing otherwise identical products (unlike “Andronicus” and “Moccona” in Stuart Alexander). They are likely to be perceived as words that convey little or no meaning (I make this observation without particular regard to the level of English literacy of the target market and assuming it to be roughly on par within native English speakers); and

(c) the addition of the reference to “Australia” has a similar local geographical connotation to “Sydney” as used in the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product.

….

 

198 Further, the trade circumstances to which I have referred in section 5 above demonstrate that often the display of the bio-placenta products in stores may not clearly show the trade mark, for instance, when the products are stacked one on top of the other. In those circumstances consumers are likely to use the visual cues provided by the get-up of the packaging to indicate the product which they seek rather than the names.

199 In my view, it is likely that a not insubstantial number of persons within the relevant class, who are aware of the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product, would be diverted from a search for that product by the get-up of the Homart product. They may note that something seems different about the brand name, but be convinced by the other similarities in the get-up that her or his recollection as to the brand name was mistaken. A consumer familiar with the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product may well recall its get-up, but have no or an imperfect recollection of its name and acquire the CHÉRI bio-placenta product believing it to be the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product. This would be especially likely in circumstances where the store does not stock both brands. The rapier of suggestion caused by the similarity in get-up will in those circumstances result in a sale for Homart.

200 Further, the findings that I have expressed in section 8 above (Development of the CHÉRI bio-placenta product) as to Homart’s intention, lead to the application of Australian Woollen Mills. That authority was applied by the Full Court in RedBull at [117] (Weinberg and Dowsett JJ, Branson J agreeing) who said:

Without wishing to labour the point unduly, we again point out that where a trader, having knowledge of a particular market, borrows aspects of a competitor’s get-up, it is a reasonable inference that he or she believes that there will be a market benefit in so doing. Often, the obvious benefit will be the attraction of custom which would otherwise have gone to the competitor. It is an available inference from those propositions that the trader, with knowledge of the market, considered that such borrowing was “fitted for the purpose and therefore likely to deceive or confuse…”. Of course, the trader may explain his or her conduct in such a way as to undermine the availability of that inference. Obviously, this reasoning will only apply where there are similarities in get-up which suggest borrowing.

201 In the present case, I am satisfied that this was the intention of Homart. As noted in Red Bull at first instance (Conti J) at [64], the difference between the brand names is not necessarily decisive of an absence of the requisite intention. Nor, as I have noted above by reference to the Full Court decision in Peter Bodum, is the presence of a brand name determinative of an absence of misleading conduct. In the present case, in any action under s 18 of the ACL, one must look at the totality of conduct of the alleged deceiver.

202 I have found that Homart intentionally adopted a get-up for its product for the purpose of appropriating part of the trade or reputation of Careline. The choice of the CHÉRI Australia brand name was not, in the particular circumstances of this case, sufficient.

In the context of the findings at [198] above, his Honour had earlier noted at [29] – [30] that the cause of action could be made out even if the customer’s mistaken impression was dispelled by the time they had reached, or at, the sales counter. Burley J did discount Careline’s argument that the largely Chinese speaking customer base would not appreciate the different wording in Roman characters.

Does this mean Parkdale v Puxu is dead?

Homart Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd v Careline Australia Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 403

Jif Lemon comes to Australia

Would you mistake this:

for this:

If not, you’re too sophisticated.

The Full Court (Greenwood and Tracey JJ, Buchanan J dissenting) has upheld Bodum’s appeal from Middleton J’s finding that the Euroline product was not likely to misrepresent an association with Bodum or its Chambord coffee plunger.

Now, due to my involvement in the other case (which was not appealed), I cannot say much about this.

I will draw your attention to Greenwood J’s finding that Bodum did in fact have a reputation (but not a monopoly see [266]) in the features of the coffee plunger alone, divorced from its branding insignia.

192 The advertising material is vast. It has endured over a long period. It is reinforced by substantial sales of the product. The reputation for the product by reason of its aesthetic features reflected in the pleaded elements of the shape of the product, is very significant. The presence of the bodum® trade mark operates to reinforce the association in the mind of consumers or potential purchasers between the distinctive product and its maker which is established by the reputation subsisting in the features of the product itself.

….

194 Two examples (among many) speak loudly to the independent or secondary reputation in the features of the product at approximately each end of the chronological spectrum. The first is the feature article as early as 17 June 1986 addressing the coffee-drinking behaviours and coffee preferences of consumers, in the Good Living section of The Sydney Morning Herald which depicts as the signature image for the article a large Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger standing next to a mound of coffee beans. Presumably, the publishers of the article in that section of the newspaper thought that consumers would immediately identify with the image. The second is the front page of the 2008 Myer Christmas Catalogue. In that catalogue Myer placed the Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger at the apex of the Christmas tree of products presumably on the footing that consumers ready to engage in purchase transactions in the Christmas retail cycle would identify and associate with the products on the cover of the catalogue including, for present purposes, the Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger.

195 What further evidence could be needed of a significant independent reputation in the features of the product itself connecting consumers with the maker of the product (even if the name of the maker may not readily be called to mind) although, in fact, the promotional material is, as found, vast.

196 As to the distinctiveness of those features, there is no evidence which suggests that the features of the Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger are simply generic features. There are many different coffee makers which exhibit many different shapes. The evidence within the advertising material contains many images of different styles of coffee makers. Moreover, the primary judge found at [120] that although copyists had entered the market from time to time, the presence of copyists had not diluted Bodum’s reputation. Rather, it “would have had the inverse effect” having regard to the factors mentioned by the primary judge at [120].

197 I am satisfied that the evidence establishes a very significant secondary reputation in the features of the Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger associated in the mind of consumers with Bodum as the manufacturer of the product and, with respect to the primary judge, that reputation is not “distinctly tied” to Bodum in the sense that in the absence of the name Bodum there cannot be a secondary reputation in the features of the product. The primary judge considered that Bodum, like Mars Australia Pty Ltd, had become “a victim of its own success” by so heavily promoting its distinctive product in conjunction with its trade mark, Bodum, that in the absence of the mark, no potential purchaser would be, or would be likely to be, misled into believing that a rival product is a Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger. Care should be taken in applying this notion as a general principle. As a conclusion on the facts in the case of the Maltesers get-up, the highly stylized and dominant word Maltesers as the principal component of the get-up emblazoned on the box of the confectionary product meant that purchasers of similar confectionary would not think a rival boxed product not exhibiting the highly stylized Maltesers mark was a box of Maltesers. However, it should be remembered that the product in question was a boxed product in which the confectionary could not be examined by a potential buyer independently of its packaging.

You should also note the importance his Honour placed on (a) the absence of product branding on the Euroline product itself and (b) the generic or descriptive and unknown nature of the branding that it did have. For example:

244 It seems to me that the adoption on the box of a non-distinctive and descriptive trade mark Euroline for a rival product which for all practical purposes embodies all of the features (that is, copies those features) of the product exhibiting the pronounced and substantial reputation at July 2004 of the Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger, is not sufficient to distinguish the rival product from the distinctive product sought to be copied. This is especially so as the rival product and the Bodum product are regularly displayed outside the packaging for each product notwithstanding that it may be that the products are displayed in stand-alone fashion, proximately located to the packaging and in some locations in front of the boxes. It would have been a simple matter for DKSH to mark its name prominently on the box or mark its trade mark and product name prominently on the rival product itself (or at least as prominently as Bodum marks its product) or both. A plainly distinctive differentiating trade mark might also have been selected for use on the box and on the product.

245 An inference is open that at July 2004 DKSH’s get-up of its product was such as to lead consumers to believe, or be likely to lead consumers to believe, that when they engaged with the rival product they were actually engaging with Bodum’s product or a product in the Bodum line of products even if they saw the words Euroline on the box when engaging in the sequence of steps leading up to selection and purchase of a coffee plunger. If they did not see the box and were drawn to the rival coffee plunger by reason of the distinctive features of the Bodum product, a consumer might well pick up the rival product and handle and examine it, and if a potential purchaser did so, there is no indication from DKSH on the product itself that the consumer was not looking at a Bodum product or a product in the Bodum line of products, but looking at a DKSH product.

246 The references in the primary judgment to the association between the distinctive features of the Bodum product and the use of Bodum’s name and logo inverts the real question to be addressed. A consumer looking specifically for the Bodum Chambord Coffee Plunger by reference to the name Bodum could pick up the Bodum product as displayed out of its box, hold it (as put in cross-examination – even at arms-length in the right hand) and see the Bodum name and trade mark. That might well be so for a consumer looking for the product specifically by name because they know the product by name. They may be replacing a Bodum product they already own; or they may have seen the product closely in particular settings at a restaurant, in a home or in many other settings which attracted their attention to its features and the Bodum name as well as the features. The real question is what impression is made on the mind of the reasonable or ordinary member of the class of consumers seeking to buy a coffee plunger (rather than sophisticated members of the class, which applies a more stringent and incorrect test) drawn to the rival product by reason of the copying of the distinctive features of the Bodum product and conscious of the reputation associating the product distinctly with Bodum (although the name might not be immediately recalled), when such a consumer examines the rival product without any differentiating name, title or logo on the product at all to signify that it is not actually a Bodum product. As a matter of impression, it seems to me entirely rational to conclude that such a member of the class is very likely to think that the largely indistinguishable product embodying those features (as DKSH chose to do) is the Bodum product, a version of the Bodum product or in some way sponsored or approved by Bodum. The only step taken by DKSH to differentiate its product is the placing of the Euroline name on the box for the product. The instruction sheet as to safe use of the product does not reasonably tell a potential purchaser that “this is not a Bodum coffee plunger”.

Note in particular that the branded leaflet inside the product itself was inadequate.

Note also there was not a marketing expert or a parade of consumers anywhere to be seen.

Parkdale v Puxu was distinguished on its facts at 254 – 257. Philips v Remington and Dr Martens  were distinguished as the products themselves were labelled in the appropriate places (and the rival traders’ marks were well-known).

Greenwood J put to one side arguments about “impulse purchase” products being the subject matter of cases such as Jif Lemon and Red Bull :

262 It seems to me to be an error of principle to simply put cases such as Red Bull and Apand to one side as purely “impulse purchase” cases in the circumstances of this case. Those cases at least raise for proper analogical consideration the question of whether the use of a label on the rival product itself (or packaging for a product) aided, in context, in distinguishing a rival product from the product it closely resembles whether by features of shape or other distinctive get-up. In similar terms, the adoption of the trade name REALEMON on the rival get-up for the rival product in Reckitt & Colman Products Ltd v Borden Inc. (Schedule 16) was not enough to establish differentiation for the rival product from the distinctive lemon get-up of Borden’s product.

Bodum v DKSH Australia Pty Limited [2011] FCAFC 98