Press cuttings and copyright: House of Lords dismisses appeal by newspaper licensing agency

The House of Lords has upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision last year that Marks and Spencer did not infringe copyright in “typographical arrangements of published editions” by copying and distributing daily press cuttings provided by a monitoring agency.

Newspapers assign copyright in their typographical arrangements to the NLA, which then licenses companies to copy them, for a fee.

The issue on which the House of Lords ruled last week was whether in copying cuttings of individual newspaper articles M&S was copying the whole or a substantial part of the typographical arrangement of published editions.

In round one two years ago the High Court decided that the typographical arrangement of each separate article was a copyright work – hence M&S had infringed copyright. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision (see our May 2000 bulletin) and according to the House of Lords they were right. The skill and labour devoted to the typographical arrangement of a newspaper is expressed in its overall page design, the particular fonts, columns, margins and other elements being only the “typographic vocabulary in which the arrangement is expressed.”

Companies should bear in mind that individual newspaper articles and pictures have separate copyright protection as literary or artistic works. M&S’s victory last week related only to typographical arrangement copyright and should not therefore be taken as carte blanche to copy press cuttings.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.