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Style Not Just Difference is The Clincher in Breach of Copyright Case

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There is a common belief that making use of someone else’s work and transforming it into something that seems ‘different’ will not breach copyright. This is not the case as illustrated by a recent case which involved a stylised picture of a red London ‘Routemaster’ bus set against a grey background including the Houses of Parliament. The image was used widely by its creators. It was also widely licensed to other companies.

hlw Keeble Hawson LogoA second company liked the general style of the picture and took its own photographs and attempted to make an image that would not infringe the copyright of the creator of the original. The image was quite different from the original in many respects but had the same general style and included the red bus and grey background depicting the Houses of Parliament.

The owner of the original image claimed that the second image was a breach of its copyright and the Court decided that the second image was a breach of copyright, despite being clearly different from the original, because it made use of a substantial amount of the claimant’s artistic work.

Deborah Niven, an Associate in hlw Keeble Hawson’s IP Team:

“This case takes copyright law a step further in giving protection for a particular style. It throws doubt on the established principle that taking “inspiration” only from another artwork will not amount to copyright infringement.  The case may also impact on software developers who without copying underlying source code develop software with the same or similar functionality to an existing product”.

Please contact Deborah Niven on 0114 276 5555 or on if you would like more information on this subject or on copyright generally.

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