Rage copyright claim fails

A recent decision of the Federal Court offers two timely reminders for litigants claiming copyright infringement.

Mr Wills, a self-represented litigant, claimed the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had infringed his copyright by broadcasting five music videos that he had filmed on its music video program rage between 1998 and 2001.

Unfortunately for Mr Wills, his claim fell over on two rather rudimentary points.

The first failing was related to time. The Court found that three of the five broadcasts occurred outside of the six year time limit for bringing a claim (Mr Wills action was commenced in December 2006). Therefore no claim could be brought in relation to those three broadcasts.

The second and more fatal failing related to ownership. The Copyright Act sets out who owns the copyright in a newly created work:

Subject Matter


literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works author of the work
sound recordings maker of the recording
cinematograph film maker of the film
television and sound broadcasts maker of the broadcast
published editions of works publisher of the edition

This basic formula is then modified by a number of other considerations such as when the subject matter was created, if it was created during employment, if it was commissioned by another person or any agreement relating to the subject matter. Further, successive decisions of the Courts continue to examine and re-define the definitions of key terms such as ‘author’, ‘publisher’ and ‘maker’.

In the case of a cinematograph film, the general principle is that the owner is the producer who make the financial or administrative arrangements for the production of its first copy. Typically, this concept is reinforced by agreements entered into by the relevant parties involved in the production of the film.

In Mr Wills case, the Court found that his involvement in the production of the music videos was limited to camera work and that he played no significant role in the financial or administrative contributions that led to the production of the films. Accordingly, he was found to have no ownership in the music videos and his claim failed. To add salt to his wounds costs were, quite reasonably, awarded against him.

This case highlights some fundamental issues for copyright claimants but also demonstrates the difficulties faced by self-represented litigants. Arguably, had Mr Wills been the recipient of professional legal advice, he may not have initiated his claim and spent three years litigating only to lose and face a substantial costs bill.

For advice on copyright issues please contact Certus Legal Group.