16 September, 2015

Retrospective - Incidental Inclusion of Copyright Protected Material

Not all infringement is necessarily wilful or intended, whether it is accidentally sharing a copyright protected image to a wider audience when it was intended to be shared to simply a small audience (albeit still, arguably, infringing copyright) or including works in your own that were not duly licensed as a matter of omission. As such the law does exclude liability for potential accidental inclusion, protecting those who have not intended to infringe copyright, but nevertheless have done so. How the law protects those who've incidentally included material in their works has been unclear due to the ambiguity of the provision in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, but more clarity was shed on the provision in the early 2000s by the Court of Appeal.

The case dealing with incidental inclusion was Football Association Premier League Ltd & Ors v Panini UK Ltd, which dealt with collectible football stickers; a staple in many persons' youths (although this writer was more of the ice hockey disposition). Panini sold stickers, along with an album that you could collect them into, within the UK. The sticker collection comprised of nearly 400 football players from the English Premier League and other leagues, and the images used in the stickers contained the player wearing their respective club shirt. In many pictures the clubs' logos are fully visible, also sometimes including the Premier League logo on the sleeve of the football shirt. After a licence was issued to Topps Europe Limited (a tendering process that Panini was involved with) they created a similar sticker collection and accompanying album, and the Premier League too Panini to court for copyright infringement in relation to the club logos and the Premier League logo.

The main focus of the case was on whether Panini's inclusion of the logos in their stickers was copyright infringement, or whether it was protected under section 31 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The provision allows for a finding of non-infringement in the event of a work's "...incidental inclusion in an artistic work, sound recording, film or broadcast"; however, what exactly amounted to an 'incidental' inclusion was uncertain.

Several draft stickers were rejected for good reason
Lord Justice Chadwick saw that the determination of whether a work does or does not infringe copyright has to be made "...considering the circumstances in which the relevant artistic work... was created". The circumstances would involve the relevant artist's mindset and potential reasons for the inclusion of a potentially infringing work in their work, as well as both commercial and aesthetic reasons for its inclusion. Emphasis is placed on the why, which undoubtedly will take into account any inclusions that are done merely feigning an incidental inclusion, when the true reason was to benefit from its inclusion.

In concluding the case Lord Justice Chadwick saw that, as the reason for the inclusion of the relevant club shirt was to make the images, and therefore the stickers, the most attractive to a would-be collector, it would be important for the shirts to be authentic and contain all logos. Due to this their inclusion could not have been purely incidental, as the objective of the images was to display the logos, although not prominently, but visibly enough for an informed collector to note them. His promptly then dismissed the appeal by Panini.

As can be seen incidental inclusion is by no means a straightforward assessment using bright line rules, but involves a more nuanced, objective assessment of a potentially infringing work's inclusion. Should the Premier League logo just have been present in an on-field advertising board in the background, or on a truck outside, arguably its inclusion would have been incidental. The reason why they were in the image was to give an aura of legitimacy, value and to effectively identify each player, team and league in the sticker set. Incidental inclusion doesn't come up often in IP, and this writer would love to see it applied in an Internet context somehow.

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