With a judgment rendered on March 31, 2015, the IP & Enterprise Division of the Court of Turin laid down an interesting ruling on the protection, under Italian copyright law, of the variety of forms of expression and creative contributions that may be related to the creation of commercial ads and particularly of TV spots.
In the case at hand, the plaintiff - the former employee of an established media agency - had filed a preliminary injunction action against the agency in order to claim full authorship, attribution and copyright, under Italian Copyright Law, of a TV commercial for which he had allegedly drafted the original script envisaging all the core creative elements of the advert.
According to the plaintiff’s allegations, as soon as he was laid off from the agency, his original idea of the spot (as expressed in its creative brief) had been subsequently used, developed and implemented by its former colleagues in order to produce a commercial for one of the agency’s top-tier clients, with the ad not even mentioning the plaintiff in the credits.
In the first instance proceedings, the Court had rejected the claim, holding that the plaintiff’s creative effort, substantiating in the mere drafting of the script, was not sufficient to give rise to a work of art which was eligible for copyright protection under Article 1 of the Italian Copyright Act. According to the Court, the plaintiff had only crafted the general idea of the spot, but ideas are not protectable per se under copyright law.
During the second instance proceedings, nevertheless, the Court of Appeal of Turin reversed its prior decision, ruling that the plaintiff had to be considered among the authors of the final version of the commercial.
Indeed, the Court held that the main legal issue of the case was not to assess whether the plaintiff’s work was per se eligible for copyright protection, but rather to assess whether the plaintiff’s creative contribution to the final work – as expressed in the original script – was sufficiently significant for the production of the spot.
In such regard, the Court held that the script initially drafted by the plaintiff already covered all the essential elements that were later incorporated in the final version of the spot (advertising message, target audience, setting, storyline, style of voice over, and the final tag-line): therefore, the plaintiff’s creative contribution had proven to be indispensable for the production of the final work, this making the plaintiff a full co-author of the work for all legal purposes under Italian law.