Create a Similarly Composed Photo in the UK, Risk Copyright Infringement

If you’re a photographer in the UK, you might want to think twice about shooting and selling a photograph that has a similar composition to an existing photo. Souvenir company Temple Island Collection has won a copyright infringement case against tea company New English Teas after a photo of a red London bus was used on tea packaging. Photo copyright expert and lawyer Charles Swan states,

His honour Judge Birss QC decided that a photograph of a red London bus against a black and white background of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, with a blank sky, was similar enough to another photograph of the same subject matter to infringe copyright.

The decision is perhaps surprising, given the commonplace subject matter of the photographs. The judge himself admitted that he found it a difficult question, but in the end he decided that a substantial part of photograph one [Temple Island's image, top] had been reproduced in photograph two [New English Teas', bottom].

Although the photo itself wasn’t copied, the judge ruled that the similarity of the ‘visual contrast’ of the red bus and B&W background infringed on the original photographer’s ‘intellectual creation’. The case is reminiscent of photographer David LaChapelle’s lawsuit against Rihanna for infringing upon his style in one of her music videos. Rihanna ended up paying an undisclosed sum of money to LaChapelle to settle the case.

Photographers Face Copyright Threat after Shock Ruling [Amateur Photographer]

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  • Tony

    I took the time to read the judge’s comments on the case (linked in the article).

    At first I thought that this was similar to the situation where Compaq replicated the BIOS software of the first IBM PC, allowing them to legally “clone” that computer. They got around the issue of copyright by having one group of software engineers write a design document based on the code, and then giving the document to a totally separate group to write the code.

    That was NOT what happened in this case, as the judge’s comments make quite clear

  • Tony

    The defendants went to rather elaborate lengths to produce their image when it seems to me that it did not need to be so complicated. Mr Houghton could have simply instructed an independent photographer to go to Westminster and take a picture which includes at least a London bus, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Whatever image was produced could then have been used on the tins of tea. Such an image would not infringe. It may or may not have the same appealing qualities as the claimant’s image. Even if it did they would be the result of independent skill and labour employed by the independent photographer. Again however that is not what happened…”

  • captaindash

    The judge didn’t say “No b/w background behind red bus anymore, never ever!?”. This isn’t a red flower in front of a giraffe. It’s the exact same style bus on the same bridge in front of the same building. Not saying it’s infringement or not, I’m just saying that there is a very clear similarity between the two photos that goes beyond just the colors. FYI, when you say things like this makes you wanna “kick ass instantly”, it makes me want to copy one of your photos and post it, just to see you turn red with rage, as if me copying it affects you or your livelihood on any way.

  • captaindash

    Yes. That’s exactly what they article is trying to say. Keen observation. *slaps forehead and runs hand down face*

  • captaindash

    We are both quite off topic here, but you’re saying chiropractic care doesn’t have a large enough body of evidence (millions of people, myself included) to include it as a genuine medical treatment option? Not to be redundant, but again, I personally have greatly benefited from chiropractic care so I know for a fact that at least for my particular case that it was a great option. It’s drug free and I don’t have to continue with it forever. I haven’t been to a chiro in years, but a chiro helped me with a severe disc condition. Just because you haven’t experienced something, doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. (Idiot.)

  • Mike Gatiss

    Not at all, what they’re saying is that if you see an image, try to licence it and decide it’s too expensive and then go off to recreate it you’re breaching copyright. Not the same at all

  • Mike Gatiss

    I think you’re missing the point Phil. If the 2nd photographer had seen lots of similar images then they would have been fine. They got caught out because they tried to licence the original image, didn’t like the price then went out to create their own version.