The recent decision in Realestate.com.au Pty Ltd v Hardingham  HCA 39 overturned a significant copyright ruling and has potential for significant flow-on effects for photographers and other content creators.
Hardingham, an independent real estate photographer, took photos of properties for real estate agents under oral contracts. The agents uploaded the photos to realestate.com.au (REA). REA then provided the photos to RP Data, a service that allows real estate agencies to use photos for property marketing campaigns.
When agents uploaded the photos to REA, they accepted clickwrap terms which gave REA “an irrevocble and perpetual licence to use the content … for any purpose related to our business”. RP Data argued that this licence meant it was able to use the photos once permitted to do so by REA. Hardingham contended that the licence had to be subject to a limitation so that it ended once the property was sold or leased.
At first instance Thawley J found that the sub-licence from REA to RP Data should be permitted because it was inferred from the parties’ conduct and should be implied to give business efficacy to the arrangements. It was not subject to any time limit.
On appeal to the Federal Court, the Full Court found that they were not satisfied that the terms should be implied or inferred, and that any implied licence did not extend beyond the property marketing campaign.
In December, the High Court overturned the Federal Court’s decision. The question, in this case, was what a reasonable person would consider, based on the parties’ words and conduct.
The Court found that there was nothing in the oral contracts, between Hardingham and the original real estate agencies, to suggest that the photos could not be used after the campaign. They all knew that the photos uploaded to REA and RP Data remained there after the completion of the campaign and on a history tab for the property. That had been the case for a number of years.
So, the real estate agencies were capable of licensing the photos to REA on its standard terms, and REA was capable of licensing them to RP Data. Accordingly, RP Data did not infringe Hardingham’s copyright.
This case has important implications for photographers and other content creators, and is an important reminder to put clear, written agreements in place when licensing copyright and other IP. You can exclude implied terms and make sure that the parties’ expectations match. If you would like assistance with documenting your copyright agreements, contact us.
Author: Ashna Govil, paralegal.