Designers Guild Ltd v Russell Williams (Textiles) Ltd (Trading As Washington DC): HL 28 Nov 2000

Copyright Claim: Was it Copied, and How Much?

The claimant sought to enforce its copyright in artwork for a fabric design Ixia, saying the defendant’s design Marguerite infringed that copyright. Two issues faced the House. Just what had been copied and if any, then did this amount amount to the whole or a substantial part the design.
Held: Where a court of first instance considered a claim of breach of copyright, it must consider both the question of whether copying had taken place, and if so whether what had been copied was substantial. An appellate court should recognise that both are questions of fact and degree, and should be very careful not to usurp the function of the court of first instance by reversing such a decision on appeal. Claims for infringement of artistic copyright differ from other infringement cases in that the result of infringement might or might not look like the original, and the fact of copying was more important. The line was very difficult to draw. Although in this case not the smallest part of a fabric design had been reproduced with anything approaching photographic fidelity, the copying of certain of the ideas expressed in that design which, in their conjoined expression, had involved original artistic skill and labour, constituted the copying of a substantial part of the artistic work.
Lord Hoffmann said: ‘Generally speaking, in cases of artistic copyright, the more abstract and simple the copied idea, the less likely it is to constitute a substantial part. Originality, in the sense of the contribution of the author’s skill and labour, tends to lie in the detail with which the basic idea is presented. Copyright law protects foxes better than hedgehogs. ‘
Lord Millett said: ‘The first step in an action for infringement of artistic copyright is to identify those features of the defendant’s design which the plaintiff alleges have been copied from the copyright work. The court undertakes a visual comparison of the two designs, noting the similarities and the differences. The purpose of the examination is not to see whether the overall appearance of the two designs is similar, but to judge whether the particular similarities relied on are sufficiently close, numerous or extensive to be more likely to be the result of copying than of coincidence. It is at this stage that similarities may be disregarded because they are commonplace, unoriginal, or consist of general ideas.’


Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffmann Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Millett Lord Scott of Foscote


Gazette 18-Jan-2001, Times 28-Nov-2000, [2000] UKHL 58, [2001] 1 All ER 700, [2000] 1 WLR 2416, [2001] FSR 113, [2001] ECDR 10, [2001] FSR 11


House of Lords, Bailii


Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 16(3)


England and Wales


Appeal fromDesigners Guild Ltd v Russell Williams (Textiles) Ltd CA 26-Mar-1999
The claimant alleged copying of designs. The defendant appealed a finding that copying had taken place.
Held: The rejection of the dissection test in Ladbroke was as to the subsistence of copyright and not as to infringement. Evidence of those . .
CitedLB (Plastics) Ltd v Swish Products Ltd HL 3-Jan-1979
Access and Similarity base proof of Copying
Copyright is intended to protect one person against his work being copied by another. One person must not be permitted to appropriate the result of another’s labour; it is for the plaintiff to establish and prove as a matter of fact that copying has . .
CitedLadbroke (Football) Ltd v William Hill (Football) Ltd HL 1964
What is substantial copying
The plaintiff alleged copying of their football pools coupons and copyright infringement. The issues were as to the extent of copying required to establish infringement, and whether it was proper to look at the several parts of the work separately. . .
CitedKenrick and Co v Lawrence and Co 1890
Ideas expressed by a copyright work may not be protected because, although they are ideas of a literary, dramatic or artistic nature, they are not original, or are so commonplace as not to form a substantial part of the work. . .
CitedKleeneze Ltd v DRG (UK) Ltd 1984
However strikingly original is a work, copyright law alone will not prevent others expressing the same idea themselves, even if the result is similar. . .
CitedMehdi Norowzian v Arks Ltd and Guinness Brewing Worldwide Limited (No 2) CA 11-Nov-1999
The claimant film artist showed a film to an advertising agency, who did not make use of it, but later appeared to use techniques and styles displayed in the film in subsequent material sold to third parties.
Held: A film was protected as a . .
CitedPro Sieben Media AG v Carlton Television Ltd and Another CA 7-Jan-1999
The defendant was accused of infringing copyright in a TV programme relating to the pregnancy of a woman with eight foetuses. The defendant claimed fair dealing, but that defence was rejected by the trial judge.
Held: The decision was . .
CitedFrancis Day and Hunter Ltd v Bron CA 1963
The test of substantial similarity in copyright infringement cases is an objective one. That assessment is for the court with such assistance from the evidence and parties as it can muster. To be an infringement there must be ‘some causal . .
CitedWarwick Film Producers Ltd v Eisinger 1969
Although, in a claim for copyright infringement, the features alleged to have been copied from a work must be a substantial part of the plaintiff’s work, they do not need to form a substantial part of the defendant’s work to found a claim for . .
CitedBiogen Plc v Medeva Plc HL 31-Oct-1996
The claim patented sought to protect a genetic molecule rather than a whole mouse namely that the molecule would, if inserted into a suitable host cell, cause the cell to make antigens of the Hepatitis B virus. A recombinant method of making the . .
At First InstanceDesigners Guild Limited v Russell Williams (Textiles) Limited PatC 14-Jan-1998
The defendant denied that it had copied the plaintiff’s designs.
Held: There was sufficient evidence of copying. It was wrong to dissect a work, but rather the court should look at the matter as a whole. . .

Cited by:

CitedSeb SAa v Societe De’Longhi Spa CA 4-Jul-2003
The claimant’s action for patent infringement had been dismissed on the basis that the patent was invalid for obviousness.
Held: There was material before the judge on which he could properly conclude as he did on the presence of common . .
CitedA Fulton Company Limited v Totes Isotoner (UK) Limited CA 4-Nov-2003
The defendants appealed a finding that they had infringed the claimant’s unregistered design rights in collapsible umbrellas. The defendants said the law protected only the design as a whole, and that only part had been copied.
Held: Authority . .
CitedNewspaper Licensing Agency Ltd v Marks and Spencer Plc HL 12-Jul-2001
The respondent company subscribed to a cuttings service, but redistributed the cuttings within its offices. The cuttings agency claimed that the re-distribution infringed their rights in the typographical arrangement. The cuttings did not give any . .
CitedNavitaire Inc v Easyjet Airline Co and Another ChD 30-Jul-2004
The claimant alleged infringement of its copyright in a software system which dealt with airline reservations. It was not said that any code had been copied, but merely that an express requirement of the defendant ordering the system was that it . .
CitedIPC Media Ltd v Highbury-Leisure Publishing Ltd ChD 21-Dec-2004
The claimant magazine publisher alleged breach of copyright by the defendant in their magazine, as to the cover page designs used. It was not clear just which cover was said to have been copied.
Held: The first step in a copyright action is . .
CitedBaigent and Another v The Random House Group Ltd (The Da Vinci Code) ChD 7-Apr-2006
The claimants alleged infringement of copyright by the defendant publishers and author in the plot and otherwise in the book ‘The Da Vinci Code’. They said that their own work had been copied substantially, using themes and copying language. The . .
CitedNova Productions Ltd v Mazooma Games Ltd and others CA 14-Mar-2007
The defendant appealed against a finding of copyright infringement in a computer game.
Held: The appeal failed. The court must identify the artistic work relied upon and then decide whether it has been reproduced by copying of the work as a . .
CitedNova Productions Ltd v Mazooma Games Ltd and others ChD 20-Jan-2006
The claimant alleged copyright infringement in respect of computer games in the coin operated video market. It was said not that the games copied bitmap graphics, but rather the composite frames which appeared on the screen.
Held: The games . .
CitedBaigent and Another v The Random House Group Ltd CA 28-Mar-2007
The claimants appealed against a decision that the defendant’s book, the Da Vinci Code, had not infringed their copyright. The judge had found some copying, but not so much that a substantial part had been copied.
Held: Mummery LJ said: ‘In . .
CitedGrobbelaar v News Group Newspapers Ltd and Another CA 18-Jan-2001
The claimant had been awarded andpound;85,000 damages in defamation after the defendant had wrongly accused him of cheating at football. The newspaper sought to appeal saying that the verdict was perverse and the defence of qualified privilege . .
CitedAllen v Bloomsbury Publishing Plc and Another ChD 14-Oct-2010
The claimant sought damages alleging breach of copyright by the defendant author saying she had copied large parts of the claimant’s work in her book ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. The defendant now sought summary judgment, saying the action . .
At HLDesigners Guild Ltd v Russell Williams (Textiles) Ltd (T/A Washington DC) (No 2) SCCO 20-Feb-2003
The appellant had been successful at first instance, had lost (unanimously) in the Court of Appeal and its appeal was allowed (unanimously) in the House of Lords.
Held: The general principles as to taxation of costs apply equally in the House . .
CitedTemple Island Collections Ltd v New English Teas Ltd and Another PCC 12-Jan-2012
The claimant asserted infringement of their copyright in a photograph. It showed the Houses of Parliament in black and white with a London bus in red. The original action had been settled and the proposed image withdrawn as a copy. The defendants . .
CitedLantana Ltd v The Comptroller General of Patents, Design and Trade Marks CA 13-Nov-2014
The inventor company appealed against rejection of its application for a patent for a computer program.
Held: The appeal failed: ‘on the facts found by the Hearing Officer, the invention is no more than the computerisation of a process which . .
CitedPMS International Group Plc v Magmatic Ltd SC 9-Mar-2016
Overall Impression of Design is a Judgment
The respondent had alleged infringement of its registered design in the ‘Trunki’, a ride-on children’s suitcase. At first instance, the judge had held that the surface decorations were to be ignored. On appeal it had been held that the judge had . .
CitedSheeran and Others v Chokri and Others ChD 6-Apr-2022
Insufficient Evidence to say Song was Copied
S sought a declaration that he had not copied the defendant’s song with his own. The court examined the musical details of both songs.
Held: The song was not copied. The defendant had not shown that the claimant knew anything of the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Intellectual Property

Leading Case

Updated: 07 April 2022; Ref: scu.79935