Copycat case: IPC could appeal

IPC’s Ideal Home (top) claimed Highbury’s Home (above) was copying it

IPC, publisher of Ideal Home magazine, is seeking permission to launch a legal appeal after a High Court judge ruled against the company in a unique breach of copyright claim.

IPC took Highbury House, publisher of rival title Home, to court last month, claiming Highbury had produced a copycat magazine by stealing key design features from Ideal Home.

But in the verdict late last month, a judge said the company had come “nowhere near” proving its case, insisting that the alleged similarities between the two magazines were “slight, scattered and superficial”.

The case was being closely watched by media lawyers, who felt that a successful claim could pave the way for similar claims between rival magazine publishers and possibly newspapers.

An IPC spokesman said the company was “disappointed” by the verdict and was applying for leave to appeal against the ruling.

He added: “We brought this action to protect our journalists and designers and to protect the principle of copyright which sits at the heart of our industry.

“We will continue to defend vigorously the creativity and originality of our journalists.

“A picture tells a thousand words – have a look for yourself and make your own mind up.”

In the first case of its kind to come to court, IPC claimed Highbury had copied the key design features of Ideal Home’s cover and some internal features. In particular, according to IPC, the magazine had used similar strap-lines – “Britain’s best-selling decorating magazine” on Ideal Home and “The UK’s best decorating magazine” on Home – selections of photographs, and the use of a three-digit number in the cover “hotspot”.

But the judge ruled that Highbury House was only carrying out legitimate competition with Ideal Home, and had not crossed the line into copyright theft.

He drew inspiration from Monet and pointillist painter Georges Seurat in his ruling.

He said: “The law of copyright has never gone as far as to protect general themes, styles or ideas.

“Monet, like those before him, acquired no right to prevent others from painting flowers or even water lilies.

“Georges Seurat would not have obtained, through copyright, the right to prevent others from painting in a pointillist style.

“Even someone who is inspired by Monet to paint water lilies, or by Seurat to paint using coloured dots, would not infringe copyright.”

He added: “Even if, contrary to my findings, Highbury had been ‘inspired’ in some of its design choices by what it saw in Ideal Home, it would have been at far too high a level of generality to amount to infringement of copyright.”

Highbury House has said it will claim from IPC the “fullest possible contribution” to its court costs following its victory.

Mark Simpson, Highbury House’s chief executive, said he was “disappointed” that IPC was continuing to argue the case outside court. He added: “Highbury House strenuously fought IPC’s legal action on the facts and the law as they stand, and also on points of principle and fairness.

“Significant legal fees were expended by both sides in arguing the case in the High Court for three weeks, with the aid of highly experienced legal professionals and expert witnesses.

“The court ruled decisively that IPC’s case was without merit.

“Having won the argument so conclusively in a court of law, it is not appropriate to continue a debate in the press.”

By Alyson Fixter and Roger Pearson

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