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Copyright in business letters

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Lawdit Solicitors - Expert Author

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In a recent High Court Decision of Cembrit Blunn Ltd & Dansk Eternit Holdings AS v Apex Roofing Services & Roy Leader [2007] EWHC 111, it was confirmed that business letters could be protected by the law of copyright and the law of breach of confidence.

The proceedings, which involved a dispute about fibre-cement roof slates, began with a disagreement over intellectual property rights. The dispute was between a roofing manufacturer (Cembrit) and a roofing contractor (Apex). Apex complained that the slates were not of satisfactory quality, but Cembrit argued that this was due to them not being laid properly by Apex. Thus a letter written by Cembrit which considered and discussed the possible settlement of a claim which had by that time been threatened by Apex against Cembrit in relation to the slates was circulated by Apex. The claimants (Cembrit) contended that the circulation by Apex of the Letter constituted an infringement of copyright and misuse of confidential information.

It was held that the letter was intended for internal circulation only and was not intended for circulation outside the Cembrit company. The court confirmed that copyright can subsist in such correspondence and that it can subsist in business correspondence generally. The letter was found to be an original literary work, and it possessed the necessary degree of ‘skill and labour’ in order to be protected by copyright. Furthermore, it was held that Apex had infringed the copyright by copying and circulating the letter.

In order to establish breach of confidential information, it is well established that a claimant must establish first, that the information which he is seeking to protect is of a confidential nature; second, that the information was communicated in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence; and, third, that the defendant is about to make, or has made, an unauthorised or wrongful use or disclosure of that information. Apex’s circulation of the letter had not been justified. While the letter did contain some information that was widely known, it contained other additional information. Apex was bound by a duty of confidence not to circulate the letter and they were found to be in breach of that duty.

The decision means that business e-mails could also be protected. In order to protect your own confidential information, it is worth expressly stating that the e-mail you are sending is confidential, so that the recipient is aware of this.


About the Author

Lawdit Solicitors offer services and advice for litigation, commercial contracts, Intellectual Property and IT legal agreements. We are experts in commercial law with a heavy emphasis on Intellectual Property, Internet and e-commerce law. Lawdit is a member of the International Trademark Association, the Solicitors' Association of Higher Court Advocates and we are the appointed Solicitors to the largest webdesign association in the world, the United Kingdom Website Designers Association.



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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-05-23 21:03:28 in Legal Articles

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