A claim for infringement of copyright in the logo of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club (Wolves) logo was dismissed by the High Court on 15 May 2019.

Facts

The claimant alleged he had designed the Wolves logo (a wolf's head seen face-on with stylised geometric shapes) as a young teenager in the 1960s, as part of an art competition he entered at the time. He was convinced that his design was so similar to the Wolves' logo adopted in 1979 that it must have been copied consciously or subconsciously by the designer commissioned by Wolves to create the logo.

He also claimed that he had been aware of the striking resemblance between the two designs since 1979, but had only recently come into possession of his old artwork, which allowed him to compile the necessary evidence.

High Court decision

The judge admitted that both designs carried a considerable degree of similarity but emphasised the difficulty in relying on human memory, oral evidence and witness statements given about events that took place over 50 years ago, reducing the credibility of the claimant.

Further discrepancies within the evidence resulted in the judge approaching the claimant's account with a degree of caution. He highlighted the difficulties in relying on uncorroborated testimony of witnesses in general, and the additional problems inherent in oral statements going back decades.

Despite the limitations of the evidence, the judge was prepared to accept that the claimant did enter a design of the wolf's head into an art competition, although it could not be proved which of his many wolf head designs was the exact one he chose for the contest.

In relation to the act of copying itself, the judge relied on the Court of Appeal judgment in Sawkins v Hyperion Records Limited [2005] EWCA (Civ) 565, which emphasised the need for the presence of "a direct or indirect causal link between the copyright work and the alleged copy" in order to establish copying.

The account put forward by the claimant of how the designer commissioned by Wolves could have had access to his logo was not convincing enough for the judge. He failed to show that his design was either consciously or subconsciously copied.

The judge dismissed the copyright infringement claim, holding that, although the logo created by Wolves' designer is noticeably similar to that of the claimant, the similarity is no more than a coincidence and the two designs are independent of each other.

This case serves as a reminder of the importance of establishing a causal link between the copyright work and the alleged copy, in order to show that the copying occurred either consciously or subconsciously.

A considerable degree of similarity between the works on its own, however striking, will not be enough to prove copyright infringement.

Case Ref: [2019] 5 WLUK 300