The door stop with no copyright

An excellent story from Radio National’s Law Report on the implications of the High Court judgment on Ice TV vs Nine Network. It was resolved in IceTV’s favour, to wit, no copyright exists in published TV programme guides. There’s a big knock-on effect.

The judgment says in part: (I was going to say ‘inter alia’. Would you have been impressed?)

There must be “creative spark” or exercise of “skill and judgment” before a work is sufficiently “original” for the subsistence of copyright.

My reading of this is that apart from television programme guides, telephone books (possibly even Yellow Pages), football fixtures and music charts based on sales numbers will also lose copyright protection. Of course, the owners of the “intellectual property” may challenge your attempts to commercialise what they see as theirs. However, it seems from the judgment that you’d win once you got to the High Court. You do have a legal budget don’t you?

In time, perhaps not very much time, third parties will re-purpose the White Pages and probably also the Yellow Pages as online databases.

White Pages (Telstra) and Yellow Pages (Sensis) limit the functionality of their online versions. They don’t let you output to text files that could be imported to spreadsheets or databases. Your queries output to a web page and you have to strip out what you’re interested in.

If a third party scanned all the Yellow Pages ads they could collect and publish the web addresses and contact details of all those businesses. At the moment businesses need to pay through the nose if they want click-throughs to their web site or email. Third parties could index all the copy in the Yellow Pages and allow searching by keyword. Take the restaurant category. You could search for street name, ‘B.Y.O.’, ‘alfresco’ or ‘gold plate’. This would immediately be more useful than Yellow Pages, which limits the search criteria to pre-determined fields. Doesn’t make any Sensis.

Third parties would introduce a White Pages reverse look-up, an ability to identify people who’ve moved house in the last twelve months (by comparing old and new books) and the sub-set of businesses big enough to take out bold and super-bold entries. They’ll be looking for opportunities to add value to the core information.

I think Sensis and White Pages still define themselves largely as books rather than databases. Yellow Pages revenue is under pressure. For Pete’s sake; it’s published once a year, it contains no product or price information and it offers a paltry number of low resolution pictures on crap-quality paper.

Now add in this decision, which may well open them up to even more online competition. The High Court has said data is just data. Information wants to be free.

– Further discussion of the legal implications: DLA Phillips Fox

David Richards notes the lack of coverage of the judgment by Nine’s print media.



  1. Excellent analysis as usual. I do have to wonder whether this ruling applies to music charts. Those sales numbers can be pretty creative at times =)

  2. I thought phone books had lost their copyright years ago. Some dude was retyping them in India and won the case. Maybe there was an appeal?

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