IPC Media Ltd v Highbury SPL Publishing Ltd

Reference: [2004] EWHC 2985 (Ch); [2005] FSR 20; [2005] 28(2) IPD 9

Court: Chancery Division

Judge: Laddie J

Date of judgment: 21 Dec 2004

Summary: Copyright - Infringement - Artistic Works - Similarities - Copying - Independent creation - Magazines - Covers and articles

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Instructing Solicitors: Arnold & Porter for the Claimants; Wedlake Bell for the Defendants.


The Claimant (IPC) and Defendant (H) were publishers of rival magazines dealing with interior design and home interest. IPC brought proceedings against H, claiming that the covers and various internal pages of four editions of H’s magazine infringed the copyright in the same parts of certain issues of IPC’s magazine. In particular, it was alleged that H’s magazine copied the “design, subject matter, theme and presentational style”, which was a substantial part of the copyright work.


Whether the similarities between the relevant parts of the magazines were sufficient to indicate copying.


Dismissing the claim; copyright existed in the work as a whole, not in the “design, subject matter, theme and presentational syle” alone. Ignoring the dissimilar parts of works and focusing only on the similar parts can give rise to a danger of creating an illusion of copying where none exists. The Claimant was guilty of ignoring the differences between the works in this case, and such similarities as did exist were at a high level of abstraction and to be expected given that the magazines were created using common design techniques. There was nothing inconsistent with the Defendant’s claims of independent design.


This decision is useful for Laddie J’s exposition of the relevant principles applicable to claims for infringement of artistic copyright, and for its demonstration that cases of copyright infringement cannot be founded on limited similarities between otherwise different works: it is not permissible to create “similarity by excision”, as Laddie J put it. It is the entire work that copyright protects and a substantial part of that which must be copied to found an infringement claim. This was the basis of some stern criticism by the judge of the manner in which the claim was pleaded and presented. The Claimant was also criticised for using words such as “usually” and “typically” in its pleading (inappropriate in copyright infringement claims, which demand specificity: either the copyright work has a particular feature which has been copied or it has not) and for making allegations of dishonesty without “the beginnings of the evidence” to support them.