Court dismisses PropertyGuru's copyright infringement case against 99.co

Court dismisses PropertyGuru's copyright infringement case against 99.co

Property listing portal PropertyGuru's copyright infringement case against rival 99.co was dismissed by the High Court on Friday (Mar 9), with the judge ruling that the copying and editing of an image does not amount to a copyrighted work.

SINGAPORE: Property listing portal PropertyGuru's copyright infringement case against rival 99.co was dismissed by the High Court on Friday (Mar 9), with the judge ruling that the copying and editing of an image does not amount to a copyrighted work.

PropertyGuru, Singapore’s largest property listing website, first filed a Writ of Summons against 99.co in 2016, accusing it of reproducing content from its website without permission. 

The case centred around the use of a third-party platform, which property agents used to cross-post their listings on portals. Some photos which were first uploaded and edited on PropertyGuru by property agents ended up on 99.co, bearing PropertyGuru's watermark.

In her decision on Friday, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said that the addition of the watermark "does not, in my judgment, make the altered image an original work".

99.CO BREACHED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT: JUDGE

However, Judge Hoo agreed that 99.co had breached its settlement agreement with PropertyGuru by “substantially reproducing” a listing with nine photographs from the PropertyGuru website, and awarded damages to be assessed. 

PropertyGuru had in its lawsuit accused 99.co of breaching the settlement agreement entered between the two parties on Sep 28, 2015, under which 99.co cannot substantially reproduce content found on its website unless approved by PropertyGuru. It is also not allowed to put up any links on its website connecting users to PropertyGuru.

As such, Judge Hoo granted an injunction, or judicial order, against 99.co to stop it from further breaching the settlement agreement.

She also dismissed 99.co’s counterclaim for damages, for what the portal called “groundless threats of commencing proceedings” for copyright infringements. This is because the court found that PropertyGuru had “sufficient basis” to think it was justified in suing 99.co, as the latter had entered into the settlement agreement with the portal.

In addition, the judge rejected 99.co’s claim that it had suffered losses as a result of the threat of the lawsuit. “Apart from this assertion, no evidence has been produced to substantiate this claim,” she said.

In a media statement following the ruling, PropertyGuru co-founder and executive director Jani Rautiainen said that they were “very happy” with the court’s decision: “Today’s verdict sends a strong message about fair-play and good business ethics.

"The defendant broke the rules and we are happy that the court today has validated that. The defendant must stop reproducing our listings.”

Meanwhile, founder and CEO of 99.co, Darius Cheung, claimed victory in regard to the copyright infringement case.

Calling the judgment a "victory for the Internet", he said in a blog post that the rights of content “naturally” belong to content creators.

"If you were to upload a photo to Facebook Instagram or eBay - these sites do not and should not automatically get the rights on your photo simply by adding watermarks or basic modification," he added.

RULING MAY HAVE WIDER IMPLICATIONS FOR WEB USERS

The court's ruling over copyright may have wider implications for web users, lawyer Ronald Wong, director of Covenant Chambers, told Channel NewsAsia.

“This case raises interesting questions for all of us – users of websites, platforms, apps, people who post content, images on these platforms,” he said. “We sometimes do that without realising that based on the terms of use, we may actually be giving away our intellectual property over these content and images.

“A lot of it depends on the meaning of these terms of use. So I think what it raises for us is to really ask ourselves whether we read the terms of use, and also whether we might unwittingly be infringing upon other parties’ copyright or intellectual property when we use images, on such websites and platforms."

Mr Wong added that while a user who takes a photograph generally owns the copyright over it, it would still be subject to the terms of use on a website. 

“If the terms of use say that you’re licensing the copyright of the photograph to them, then you still own the photograph – but they get certain rights to use or reproduce the photo and so on," he said.

“But if the terms of use say that you assign them ownership of the copyright, then that means you’re giving away ownership in the photo," he explained. "What happens then is that the website or platform operator can enforce intellectual property rights with regard to that photograph, and you no longer have any rights.”

Both portals say that they will review the judgment with their lawyers and may appeal accordingly.

Source: CNA/zl

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