A recent decision of the Federal Court emphasizes that a statement of defence in an action alleging copyright infringement must be something more than a series of denials.

The Pleadings

Film City Entertainment Ltd. and other parties brought an action for copyright infringement relating to certain films. The defendants responded by delivering a statement of defence which seems to have been based entirely upon denial of the plaintiffs' registered copyrights.

The statement of claim referred to and was accompanied by certificates of registration of the relevant copyright registrations. It has been established that in response to a statement of claim pleading or referring to a certificate of registration, a defendant is not entitled to rely upon a simple denial, but must allege material facts which could, if proven, bring into question the matters set out in the registration. This is because a certificate of registration of copyright in a work is prima facie evidence that the copyright subsists in the work and that the person is the owner of the copyright.

Motion to Strike

The plaintiffs, on receipt of the statement of defence, brought a motion to strike out the statement of defence. The Prothonotary agreed and struck out the statement of defence on the grounds it consisted of bald denials and did not constitute a proper defence. Rather than granting the defendants leave to amend its statement of defence, the Prothonotary ordered that the defendants would have to obtain leave to file an amended statement of defence. Presumably this was done to avoid further motions to strike.

The Appeal

The defendants appealed this order to the Federal Court. Upon appeal, the Federal Court agreed with the results arrived at by the Prothonotary. It was stated that pleadings require allegations of fact, not merely bald denials. In addition, the Prothonotary did not err in requiring that the defendants apply for leave to amend the statement of defence since this was in the discretion of the Court including the Prothonotary.

Comment

The lessons from this case are clear. When acting for the plaintiff, obtain a certificate of registration. When acting for the defendant, make sure the defence pleads sufficient material facts.