DAMAGE LIMITATION: TAKING BACK CONTROL OF IP DAMAGES POST BREXIT

By Jane Foulser McFarlane

The civil enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights, was altered fundamentally when the Civil Enforcement Directive 2004/48/EC or IPRED, came into force. It was implemented to address the disparities between EU Member States for the enforcement of IP rights. The objective was to approximate legislative systems, so as to ensure a high equivalent and homogenous level of protection in the internal market. The Directive contains detailed obligations concerning final sanctions, preliminary measures and the disclosure and preservation of evidence, but the greatest effect upon UK IP law has been in relation to awards of damages and injunctive relief. However, since the UK exited the EU, with Brexit finally taking effect on 31 December 2020, it is wrong to assume that the remedies of the Enforcement Directive may no longer apply, as the civil enforcement regime for IP is now contained within the Post Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), a 1246 page document, with the IP provisions set out at Title V and which came into effect on 1 January 2021, although the general principles of EU law now no longer apply to the UK, with EU regulations only continuing to apply in domestic law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which repealed the European Communities Act 1972, to the extent that they are not modified or revoked by regulations under that Act.

The object of Brexit was to ‘Take Back Control’, but the UK will still have to comply with some aspects of the EU aquis communautaire, since every EU Free Trade Agreement with other non EU countries, such as Australia or New Zealand, has a detailed IP Chapter and these countries are bound by bi-lateral agreements with the EU.If the UK wants to take back control of its IP laws it should redraft the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988). Brexit has made the need for a new Act more pressing, not less so.

Under the CDPA 1988, damages are awarded for infringement under section 97(2). There is no provision for an award of damages under section 97(1) where the infringer did not know and had no reason to believe, that copyright subsisted in the work to which the infringement action relates. However, without prejudice to any other remedy, section 97(2) allows the court to make an award of additional damages, after having regard to all the circumstances and in particular, to the flagrancy of the infringement and any benefit accruing to the defendant by reason of the infringement, thereby creating an implied punitive, or at least deterrent basis for a further award. Section 97 was not the most lucid legislative provision prior to 2004 and it was further complicated by the application of Article 13(1) of the Enforcement Directive. Under Article 13(1), the IP right holder can apply to the court for damages against an infringer who has the requisite knowledge that they were engaging in an infringing activity. The basis for such awards are compensatory, in that the damages must be appropriate to the actual prejudice suffered as a result of the infringing activity.

Under Article 13(1), the court has two alternative options for assessing the level of damages where the requisite knowledge is present. The first alternative under Article 13(1)(a), directs the court to take into account, all appropriate aspects, which include the negative economic consequences, including lost profits, which the right holder has suffered, unfair profits made by the infringer and, in appropriate cases, elements other than economic factors, such as moral prejudice. The second alternative under Article 13(1)(b), allows the court, in appropriate cases, to set the damages as a lump sum on the basis of elements such as, at least the amount of royalties or fees which would have been due if the infringer had requested authorisation to use the IP right in question. Where the infringer did not have the requisite knowledge, Article 13(2) gives the court the discretion to order the recovery of profits or the payment of damages which may be pre-established. Recital 26 of the Directive expands on Article 13, by stating that the aim is not to introduce an obligation to provide for punitive damages, but to allow compensation based upon an objective criterion, while taking account of the expenses incurred by the right holder, such as the cost of identification and research. 

Section 97(1) of the CDPA 1988 does not explicitly refer to the compensatory principle where damages can be awarded for infringement with knowledge, although like Article 13, the court may order damages which are arguably implicitly punitive in nature, even though there is an absence of requisite knowledge. The courts are now grappling with the contrasting provisions of section 97 and Article 13, when there is a recognised need to compensate the right holder based upon the infringer’s lack of respect for the law and also as a dissuasion to the infringer in question, as well as to other potential infringers, to prevent them from committing such acts of infringement in the future.

Several cases have illustrated the interpretation and interplay between section 97 and Article 13. The first case is Absolute Lofts South West London Limited v Artisan Home Improvements Limited, [2015] EWHC 2608 (IPEC), a case in which the dispute was about the quantum of damages for the defendant’s infringement of the Claimant’s copyright in 21 photographs of loft conversions undertaken by Absolute in the course of their business as providers of home improvements. There was no dispute that Artisan had used the photographs on their website, infringing the copyright held by Absolute. The issue for the court was the level of compensatory damages due to Absolute and whether they were also entitled to additional damages in accordance with section 97(2) of the CDPA 1988, the level of those damages, or whether the Absolute was entitled to a claim under Article 13 of the Enforcement Directive.

The parties had agreed the ‘user principle’ for the basis of calculating the compensatory damages, being the licence fee of £300.00 that Artisan subsequently paid for the use of the photographs. The court, with Hacon J sitting, went on to determine the issue of additional damages, which creates difficulties, as both regimes, under section 97(2) and Article 13 fall to be considered. Section 97(2) requires the court to assess whether the infringement is flagrant and the Article 13 criteria for assessment is the right holders lost profits, the infringer’s unfair profits and any moral prejudice caused to the right holder. The court accepted that the Director of Artisan had the requisite knowledge for the infringement and found that his ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude was sufficient to merit an award under section 97(2). However, the court’s conundrum did not end there, as Hacon J had to assess whether in fact, section 97(2) still applied, or whether Article 13 took precedence. In doing so, he referred back to his own decision in the case of Jodie Aysha Henderson v All Around the World Recordings Limited [2014] EWHC 3087 (IPEC), a case involving performers rights and liability for additional damages under section 191J(2) of the CDPA 1988 which is equivalent in all material respects to section 97(2). In that case, Hacon J had questioned whether the CDPA 1988 provisions continued to apply, but he had not been required to decide the point, whereas in Absolute v Artisan, the continuing applicability of section 97(2) was unambiguously in issue and had to be determined.

The complexity required in the court’s assessment of this issue cannot be understated and can only be briefly summarised here. Regulation 3(3) of the UK Intellectual Property (Enforcement etc) Regulations 2006, provide that this Regulation does not affect the operation of any enactment or rule of law relating to remedies for the infringement of intellectual property rights except to the extent that it is inconsistent with its provisions. The court found that this suggested that existing national law with regard to knowing infringement is preserved unless it is inconsistent with Regulation 3. Hacon J dismissed the proposition that either national law is consistent with Regulation 3 of the 2006 Regulations and therefore must be taken to have the same effect as Article 13(1) of the Directive and so to apply it in parallel is pointless, or it is contrary to the Regulations and should not be applied, with the implication that any national provision that falls short or goes beyond the relief contained within the Directive, is contrary to EU law. The court found that Article 2(1) of the Enforcement Directive preserves national legislation that provides for more favourable remedies than the Directive, which went no further than setting out a minimum level of EU wide remedies, it remained the position that a successful right holder can rely on either section 97(2) or Article 13(1), whichever provides the higher level of damages.

The court considered the distinction between punitive and compensatory damages, as English law is compensatory in nature, putting the Claimant back into the position they would have been in, but for the wrongful act. However, it was held that it would be wrong to limit the award of damages to a purely compensatory level under Article 13(1), as that provision allows the concept of unfair profits to be awarded. These can be indirect, as well as direct. In the case of Absolute and Artisan, Artisan suffered reduced profits leading to liquidation after it was forced to remove the infringing photographs from its website. The court implied that the company may have been liquidated sooner had it not relied upon the photographs and to that extent they had profited from the infringement on the back of Absolute’s intellectual creativity, whilst Absolute had not lost profits in the true sense. The strictly compensatory award of £300.00 would therefore lack the dissuasive element required by Article 3(2) of the Enforcement Directive and an award of £6,000 was made. A second assessment based on flagrancy was then made under section 97(2) and the same figure of £6,000 was awarded, but not on a cumulative basis, the total award being £6,300.

Hacon J revisited the the relationship between section 97(2) and Article 13 again, in the case of Phonographic Performance Limited v Raymond Hagan [2016] EWHC 3076 (IPEC) (PPL v Hagan). PPL brought a claim against Hagan for additional damages under section 97(2) to include a claim for unfair profits under Article 13(1), the issue of compensation having been dealt with at an earlier hearing. Both provisions require requisite knowledge, but whilst this is explicit under Article 13(1), it is not under section 97(2), where the court has to take flagrancy into account, which implied knowledge. Hacon J considered that it would be difficult to imagine circumstances in which additional damages would be appropriate without that knowledge. This case made the important point, in that it identified as an important factor, the extent to which an award of damages is likely to be dissuasive, the dissuasive element being to deter the infringer from infringing again and that other, potential infringers should be dissuaded from engaging in infringing activities.

It would have been reasonable to assume, having considered the inherent complexities involved when the courts award damages for IP infringement and the stated need to dissuade infringement, that greater consideration would have been given to the IP provisions of the TCA. IP Article 47 of that Agreement is materially the same as Article 13 and the UK has failed to take back control of its ability to determine how damages for IP infringement shall be awarded, with both regimes still  requiring consideration and assessment.

The time has now come, when the CDPA 1988 is torn up and placed in the legislative shredder and the remedies for IP infringement are clarified and simplified. For example, there should be two elements to an award of damages, with compensation determined first and a dissuasive element second. The requisite knowledge and issues such as flagrancy and unfair profits should go to the assessment of the level of the award and any new legislation should reflect the basis of Article 13 or Article IP 47 of the TCA in the new Act, thereby negating the need to balance one provision against the other, as the courts are currently having to do. Only then, will we go some way to taking back control of our IP and exercise some damage limitation.

Jane Foulser McFarlane ©
September 2021

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