Allason v Random House UK Limited

Reference: 16/10/2001

Court: Chancery Division

Judge: Laddie J

Date of judgment: 16 Oct 2001

Summary: Intellectual property - Copyright – Trial – Sole/Joint author – Ghost writer – Claim to be both sole author or joint author factually inconsistent – Whether Claimant acted dishonestly in bringing proceedings – Referral by judge to DPP.


Instructing Solicitors: Simons Muirhead & Burton


Rupert Allason, the former Conservative MP and writer known as Nigel West, brought a copyright infringement action against the publisher Random House UK Limited (“Random House”), claiming that the book it had published by John Cairncross, “The Enigma Spy”, had been ghost-written by Mr. Allason, and that the copyright belonged either to Mr. Allason or his service company, Westintel Research Limited and that it had been published by Random House without a licence. Random House’s case was that the Enigma Spy was written from late 1990 onwards by the late John Cairncross, who was assisted by his wife, Gayle Cairncross. It denied that Mr. Allason was the sole (or even joint) author of the book.


Whether Mr. Allason had proved his authorship of ‘The Enigma Spy’.


Finding for Random House, Mr. Allason’s claim had changed or been refined over time. He first argued that he was the ghost writer, the sole author of the manuscript and that it was not a work of joint authorship. However, on discovering that computer disks containing the manuscript existed at a date prior to the date upon which Mr. Allason had claimed to have started to produce the manuscript, his case changed and he put forward an alternative case that he was the joint author of the work and John Cairncross assigned his interest in the copyright to him. The judge agreed with Random House that these two versions of events were inconsistent with each other. The judge found that the first argument was hopeless. As far as the second was concerned, it was clear that only, at most, 5% or so of the text was identified as coming from Mr. Allason and it was, in the main, not discrete blocks of text but consisted of scattered words.


This action was brought by Mr. Allason after the death of John Cairncross. It confirms the importance of documentary evidence in establishing the truth, when one party to an alleged agreement is not available to give his side of the story.