High Court rules on copyright ownership in breach of contract case

The High Court has ruled on a claim for infringement of copyright and breach of contract. The claim was brought by a company that specialised in the training of commercial pilots and was brought against the supplier of the training materials.

Deputy High Court Judge Richard Spearman QC, held that:

  1. The Claimant owned most of the copyrights in the artwork included in the electronic-based training materials;
  2. The Defendants has infringed the Claimant’s copyrights by reproducing the artwork for their own business;
  3. Two if the individual Defendant’s were liable as joint tortfeasors  because they were responsible for the day to day  operations of those companies; and
  4. The first Defendant was also liable for breach of contract by not providing technical support to students who the Claimant has supplied the materials to.

The judge made a number of additional observations on the case, which were:

  1. In terms of the Claimant, a reasonable period for notice of termination of the contract would have been nine (9) months. This would have given the Claimant time to make other arrangements, but without forcing the parties to continue to work together for too long; and
  2. The first Defendant had acted in breach of the contract by threatening no continue to fulfil its obligations unless the Claimant agreed to new contractual terms.

The judge also ruled on the Defendant’s counterclaim and held that:

  1. The contract between the parties contained an implied duty of good faith and that the Claimant’s conduct (in secretly downloading the Defendant’s materials on its own behalf) was commercially unacceptable and constituted copyright infringement;
  2. Despite the conduct of the Claimant in addition to various other breaches, this did not amount to repudiation of the contract as there were extenuating circumstances, including the fact that there was minimal financial damage caused to the Defendant.
  3. Even if one or more breached by the Claimant was repudiatory, this did not give the Defendant a defence to the claim against it for breach of contract.

Full case reference: Bristol Groundschool Ltd v Intelligent Capture and others [2014] EWHC  2145 (Ch)