The Internet is not the Wild West – (although it can seem to be)

18/09/20
Margaret Ryan

Some people seem to think that no laws apply to the Internet – or that anything that appears on the Internet is free to be copied and used however they like.  This is not true.

Much of the material on the Internet is protected by copyright laws, both in Australia and around the world.  Certain material, especially if posted on social media sites, may be designed or intended to be shared, such as funny cat videos and other memes.  But this is not true of everything on the Internet.

Some websites, such as Shutterstock, permit downloading of images and videos for a fee.  Other websites are essentially advertisements for their business and may also enable sales through the website.  These businesses would not expect that material on their website could be copied and used, for example, by a rival trader.

Even material intended to be shared on social media may not be able to be re-purposed.  A funny cat video shared by the cat’s owner cannot normally be taken and incorporated in a compilation of cat videos on a YouTube channel without permission.

An example of unlawful copying from the Internet, with expensive consequences, was the case of Henley Arch Pty Ltd v Del Monaco [2019] FCCA 3848 (13 November 2019).  A photo was taken of a floor plan of a Henley Arch project home found on the Henley Arch website by either Mr Del Monaco or a friend.  Mr Del Monaco then emailed the image to his builder and instructed them to prepare plans and build a house in accordance with the floor plan.

The photo, the further plans and the house were all infringements of Henley Arch’s copyright in the floor plan (copyright in a 2D drawing can be infringed by a 3D building).  Mr Del Monaco was held to have authorised the plans and building the house and so had infringed Henley Arch’s copyright.  He was ordered to pay compensation of $42,000 plus $4,800 in interest.  He also had to pay $40,000 in “additional damages” which the Judge ordered to show her condemnation of all persons who consider it “’all right’ to appropriate copyright”.  Mr Del Monaco is also likely to be required to pay a portion of Henley Arch’s legal costs.

Downloading an image or other copyright material from the Internet can seem so simple and easy.  However, if this is done to save time and money instead of seeking the permission of (and possible payment to) the copyright owner, this can have very serious consequences, especially if the material is then exploited commercially.

This article provides general information only, and is not intended as legal advice specific to your circumstances.  Please seek the advice of a lawyer if you have any particular questions.

© Margaret Ryan, Melbourne, Australia, 2020

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

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