No copyright in a style or technique

The Court of Appeal has confirmed that there is no copyright in a particular style or technique of film making.

The decision concerns a copyright infringement action brought by Mehdi Norowzian against Guinness and its advertising agency. Mr Norowzian directed a short film called “Joy” featuring a man performing a quirky dance to music. Influenced by “Joy”, Guinness produced a commercial with a dancing man which featured strikingly similar filming and editing styles and techniques.

Although the two films shared certain stylistic features such as jump-cut editing, the Court held that the subject matter had not been substantially or wholly copied.

Using the analogy of the painting technique known as Pointillism, Lord Justice Nourse explained:

“If on seeing La Baignade, Asnières at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in 1884, another artist had used precisely the same technique in painting a scene in Provence, Seurat would have been unable, by the canons of English copyright law, to maintain an action against him”.

The decision also confirmed that a film can be a dramatic work for copyright purposes. A dramatic work was defined as “a work of action with or without words or music which is capable of being performed before an audience”. “Joy” was, according to the Court, a dramatic work but the Guinness commercial did not copy a substantial part of “Joy”.

The decision means that the style and technique of a work are not protected by the monopoly conferred by copyright. Film makers and other artists may therefore freely share or copy styles or techniques without infringing copyright.


No joy for Norowzian
The Norowzian Decision

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.