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Shetland Times v. Wills

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Citation Edit

The Shetland Times v. Wills (Court of Session, Edinburgh) (24 Oct. 1996) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

A former editor of a local newspaper, "The Shetland Times," left and set up a news website, which he called "The Shetland News." "The Shetland Times" also set up a website. In October 1996, {The Shetland News" began including headlines taken from "The Shetland Times" site among its own headlines, setting them up as hyperlinks to the relevant news story on "The Shetland Times" website. There was no suggestion that "The Shetland News" was reproducing the stories themselves.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

"The Shetland Times" sued and applied for an interim interdict (preliminary injunction). They argued that the headlines are literary works and that the copying of the headlines to "The Shetland News" website is an infringement of copyright in those works.[1] Additionally or alternatively, they made an argument based on the definition of "cable programme service" under the U.K. copyright legislation and the associated tests of infringement (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, §§7 and 20). In particular, they raised a question of whether someone making materials available on a website could be said to be "sending" the material to the public.

The judge (Lord Hamilton) did not decide any legal issues and it would appear that the legal and technical arguments presented to him were relatively limited. For the purposes of the application, he granted the interim interdict on the basis that a prima facie case was made out on the "cable programme service" argument, and on the basis of a concession that (while the defendants denied that the headlines in issue were literary works) headlines might in some circumstances be literary works under U.K. copyright law.

References Edit

  1. Under U.S. law, a headline would likely be considered a "short phrase or title” and hence not be copyrightable. See U.S. Copyright Office, Circular Circular 34: Names, Titles, Short Phrases Not Copyrightable (full-text). So the question in the U.S. would be whether the copying of headlines, along with links or pointers to another’s site, constituted any sort of copyright infringement.

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