Under the headline “Revealed. Blair’s secret plan to form coalition” the Sunday Telegraph reproduced pretty much all of a secret minute written by former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown of a meeting with the Prime Minster.
Who: Paddy Ashdown and the Sunday Telegraph. Whenhe Sunday Telegraph.
When: January 2001
Where: Chancery Division of the High Court, London.
What happened: Under the headline "Revealed. Blair's secret plan to form coalition" the Sunday Telegraph reproduced pretty much all of a secret minute written by former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown of a meeting with the Prime Minster. Ashdown sued for copyright infringement and breach of confidence. The Telegraph argued fair dealing as they were "reporting current events" and/or "reviewing" the minute. They also defended on the basis that the Human Rights Act ("HRA") required copyright legislation to be interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with the right of free speech enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court threw out both defences. On "fair dealing" it was not necessary to reproduce all of the minute in order to report on the relevant "current events", nor was "review" applicable since the only thing being reviewed in the article was the conduct of Ashdown and Blair, not the minute itself. On human rights, the HRA did not provide a new defence to copyright infringement claims on top of those set out in the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1998. Summary judgement was accordingly granted to Ashdown for copyright infringement.
Why this matters:
The horizontally challenged female has not sung yet, as the Telegraph is appealing this decision to the Court of Appeal. So far, however, the case offers little comfort to advertisers who might otherwise contemplate an "HRA/free commercial speech" defence when faced with regulatory or civil action in respect of their advertising.