G A Cramp Sons Ltd v Frank Smythson Ltd [1944] AC 329

Court: House of Lords

Judges: Viscount Simon LC, Lord Macmillan, Lord Porter

Date decided: 21 June 1944

Viscount Simon LC

Granted that the appellants copied the respondents' tables (and this is not only admitted but is indicated by the almost precise similarity of language), there seems to be nothing that can properly be described as an "original literary work" in grouping together this information. A summarized statement of the most important of the postal charges, inland, imperial and foreign, is part of the ordinary contents of any pocket diary. There would, indeed, as it seems to me, be considerable difficulty in successfully contending that ordinary tables which can be got from, or checked by, the postal guide or the Nautical Almanac are a subject of copyright as being original literary work. One of the essential qualities of such tables is that they should be accurate, so that there is no question of variation in what is stated. The sun does in fact rise, and the moon set, at times which have been calculated, and the utmost that a table can do on such a subject is to state the result accurately. There is so far no room for taste or judgment. There remains, I agree, the element of choice as to what information should be given, and the respondents contend that the test of originality is satisfied by the choice of the tables inserted, but the bundle of information furnished in the respondents' diary is commonplace information which is ordinarily useful and is, at any rate to a large extent, commonly found prefixed to diaries, and, looking through the respondents' collection of tables, I have difficulty in seeing how such tables, in the combination in which they appear in the respondents' 1933 diary, can reasonably claim to be "original work." There was no evidence that any of these tables was composed specially for the respondents' diary. There was no feature of them which could be pointed out as novel or specially meritorious or ingenious from the point of view of the judgment or skill of the compiler. It was not suggested that there was any element of originality or skill in the order in which the tables were arranged. My own conclusion is that the selection did not constitute an original literary work.(([1944] AC 329, 335-6.))

Lord Macmillan

To my mind, the collection is of an obvious and commonplace character, and I fail to detect any meritorious distinctiveness in it. Everyone expects to find in his pocket diary some useful general information about rates of postage, weights and measures, significant dates and the like. Probably no two series of diaries contain precisely the same collections of tables, for they will vary according to the compiler's ideas as to what is likely to be useful to the purchasers whom he seeks to attract, but there must be a number of items, such as rates of postage, common to them all. The inclusion or exclusion of one or more of the tables constituting the ordinary stock material of the diary-compiler seems to me to involve the very minimum of labour and judgment. As I have said, and as the authorities remind us, the question must always be one of degree and on questions of degree different minds may naturally reach different conclusions. For myself, I should say that, if any compilation could be held to fall short of displaying the qualities requisite to attract copyright, the respondents' collection of seven tables is such a one.(([1944] AC 329, 338.))

Lord Porter

It is conceded that, if the work, labour and skill required to make the selection and to compile the tables which form its items is negligible, then no copyright can subsist in it. Whether enough work, labour and skill is involved, and what its value is, must always be a question of degree. Different minds will differ, as may be seen in the present case from the divergence of opinion in the courts below.
Speaking for myself, it appears to me that it is of the smallest. Like Uthwatt J. and Luxmoore L.J., I think that(3) "apart from any evidence, the compilation for which copyright is claimed is nothing more than a commonplace selection or arrangement of scraps of information, neither of which has involved any real exercise of labour, judgment or skill." And this is so whether one considers any individual table or the whole of them in combination. Even, therefore, if the respondents receive the benefit of a presumption that they are owners of copyright until that presumption is rebutted, it is, I think, rebutted by a consideration of the contents of the almanac itself and of the tables which are used as its items.(([1944] AC 329, 340 (citations omitted).))

Commentary

Copyright was not established in the tables which formed part of the diaries.