30 May 2019

Thrown to the Wolves?

It is said that every dog has its day – unfortunately this was not the case for Mr Peter Davies when he took Wolverhampton Wanderers FC (WWFC) to court claiming copyright infringement; a High Court judge ruled against him and he is now facing sizeable legal costs.

This case concerned the WWFC logo – back in the late 70s, WWFC wanted a new logo. They specified that this should be simple, modern, easy for children to copy and that it should stand out from the logos of other football clubs.

The wolf’s head design was created by Mr Jackson – a wolf’s head seen head-on, with a stylised geometric appearance. This design has been used by the club, with some minor modifications, since 1979.

Crying wolf?

Mr Davies claims he was the original designer of this wolf’s head logo and that he drew it in the early 60s and entered it into an art competition. He claimed that his design was copied either by Mr Jackson having seen his design at the art competition, or that his design was seen by someone connected to WWFC and passed on to Mr Jackson.

Based on conflicting evidence and the period of time since Mr Davies first considered his design had been infringed (around 50 years ago), Mr Justice Nugee at the High Court considered that Mr Davies’ claim was implausible. He held that:

  • there was no conscious or sub-conscious copying
  • although the designs have similarities there are also differences
  • the similarities are just coincidence
  • there are only a certain number of ways a ‘simplified, stylised design’ of a wolf’s head, seen face-on, could be drawn and it was inevitable that the prominent features would be the ears, muzzle or eyes.

Mr Davies now faces a hefty legal bill and questions have been asked regarding whether he should have brought this case in the first place.

Copyright infringement

Copyright does not protect ideas. It protects the expression of an idea and enables the author to dictate how copies of this work are treated. If the work is used in a way not authorised by the author, this could result in copyright infringement and the author can seek restitution.

What Mr Davies failed to do in this case was convince the judge that there was any causal link between his design and the WWFC logo.

What should artists do to protect their work

In the UK copyright is an automatic right and comes into effect as soon as it is recorded in permanent form. This is not registered but date stamping the work, e.g. by posting it to yourself or photographing it and recording the meta data of the photograph, would be good evidence to show when the work was first created.

Remember, copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. As with this case, if someone else comes up with an identical or strikingly similar design independently, unless it can be proved that this was the result of them seeing the work in question elsewhere (and consciously or subconsciously copying it), it will be virtually impossible to prove the original work was copied.

In this case, based on the facts presented before him, Mr Justice Nugee held that Mr Jackson created the wolf design entirely independently so could not have copied it.  With no copying, no copyright was infringed.

As far as art competitions are concerned, artists should keep track of their work, recording when and where the artwork has been submitted in order to protect their work. Being able to prove that it was possible that an alleged infringer at least saw the work could be key to a successful copyright infringement claim.

Lastly, take action early. As seen in this case, the court will not readily accept that an individual’s memory will remain entirely accurate after 50 years, so if you suspect your work has been copied, don’t delay taking action.

Making a claim

At HCR we have advised individuals on all types of copyright infringement.  We are always very careful to test the prospect of how the alleged infringer has copied the work and ensure the client has visibility (from the outset) of the potential costs involved.  As far as this case is concerned we are surprised it got as far as it did.

If you believe your copyright has been infringed, please contact Steven Murray (smurray@hcrlaw.com) or Emma Kirkpatrick (ekirkpatrick@hcrlaw.com) and we will be able to talk you through the process.

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About the Author
Steven Murray, Partner
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