IPC claimed ‘Home’ magazine had swiped key design features of “Ideal Home” and infringed its copyright. Chancery Judge Laddie has now given his verdict. So could IPC get a monopoly on ‘375 fresh new ideas for every room’?
Who: IPC Media Limited and Highbury SPL Publishing Limited
Where: Chancery Division of the High Court, London
When: December 2004
Judgement was handed down in a breach of copyright case involving two leading home improvement magazines. IPC's Ideal Home alleged in the proceedings that the covers and articles of four editions of Highbury Publishing's "Home" had copied the design, subject matter, theme and presentational style of 39 previous issues of Ideal Home.
This was a David and Goliath battle, with Ideal Home the market leader enjoying a circulation of 270,000 while "Home" sells 61,500 monthly.
Ideal Home submitted in particular that the cover of the June 2002 edition of Ideal Home had been copied by the August 2002 edition of Home and thus infringed IPC's copyright. IPC contended that Home had taken all or substantially all of certain design features of Ideal Home and in totality the similarities amounted to a copy of a substantial part of the copyright works contained in the relevant issues of Ideal Home.
"Absurd" says Laddie J
Laddie J of the Chancery Division threw out the IPC claims. He described them variously as "thin", "absurd" and "of a wide and nebulous ambit." He felt that the similarities relied on by IPC were minor and "at a high level of generality". From a visual inspection of the magazines and bearing in mind what was common in the trade, Laddie said, "there was nothing about the design features of Highbury's magazine that suggested its content was the result of copying" and nothing in Highbury's evidence undermined a coherent story of independent design; the case was dismissed.
What was more, to show his low opinion of the strength of IPC's case, he ordered IPC to pay Highbury indemnity costs instead of the usual "standard basis" costs. In practice, this will end up in IPC paying nearer 100% of Highbury's legal costs than around the "standard basis" two thirds. Estimates suggest IPC faces a total legal costs bill in the region of £1.8 million.
Why this matters:
The start of these proceedings was previously reported on marketinglaw.co.uk. Establishing a copyright infringement or passing off in cases involving similar looking magazines is notoriously difficult and this case is just another in a long line of similar actions that have resulted in disappointment on the part of the claimant.
This is not to say that some cases have succeeded, but there have to be extensive and close similarities in the copyright-protected features of the claimant's work for the case to have any real chance of succeeding. Otherwise, as in this case, mere similarities in general themes, styles or ideas are not going to cut the mustard.