Australia: Telstra copyright decision to affect owners and users of directories, databases and listings

Last Updated: 16 December 2010
Article by Joshua Henderson and Scott Buchanan

The Full Federal Court of Australia has rejected Telstra's appeal1 that copyright subsists in its valuable yellow and white pages directories.

For owners of directories, compilations and databases, this decision confirms it is difficult to rely on copyright for protection, meaning new strategies are required to protect valuable information works. We recommend owners review their copyright protection measures and seek clarity and advice on new IP protection, commercialisation and enforcement strategies.

Users now have greater access and rights to use these directories, compilations and databases, opening up new opportunities for IT developers. For example, developers of iPhone applications are now free to use the information/data from timetables, directories and other data listings to develop their products (not the software or layout - unless not original).

This decision, while it impacts on copyright owners (e.g. publishers) and users, provides further clarification and greater certainty regarding the right to use informational works.

As previously reported2, Australian copyright law is tracking towards harmonisation with US copyright law in the context of database, directory and information style works. This means greater certainty for our global clients and moves away from database rights as enshrined in EU law.

Key 'take aways' from the Full Federal Court's decision include:

  • New markets for new products. Software developers, and other developers of third generation products, now have 'free' access to the information/data in a range of database and compilation works previously assumed to be protected by copyright and thus unavailable.
  • Further stimulus for government initiatives to open up public sector data. The certainty afforded by this decision removes an important barrier for the Commonwealth Government3 and other State and Territory Governments seeking to make valuable information available under open licensing models.
  • Greater focus on carefully planned IP strategies. Enforcement of IP rights in informational works is more difficult and will be contingent upon businesses having developed and implemented carefully structured IP protection strategies. For example, greater emphasis will be required on protecting data through technological means, contract and, where possible, via obligations and systems of confidentiality.
  • Authorship and Originality of expression are the new 'kings' of copyright protection for compilation style works. Copyright will, in limited circumstances, still apply to informational style works but careful planning around the development of these works will be critical. The High Court's landmark decision last year in IceTV4 demonstrates the importance of originality being directed towards elements of expression of the information and this most recent Full Federal Court decision highlights the importance of identifying relevant human authors - something which Telstra failed to do in the context of its directories.
  • New laws? As we have previously predicted, we continue to believe that we can expect Telstra (and other owners of valuable database works) to lobby government for legislative change for the intro


To recap on the facts of this case, Telstra and Sensis claimed that copyright in their White Pages and Yellow Pages directories (Directories) had been infringed by Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd who published a competing product.

Given the comments made by the High Court in the IceTV decision regarding the subsistence of copyright in databases, Justice Gordon agreed to determine the issue of subsistence of copyright in the Directories first. In attempting to prove its case, Telstra relied on ninety-one affidavits from various witnesses who were involved in the process of preparing and publishing the Directories. This evidence showed that the production of the Directories was a largely automated process.

Gordon J found that copyright did not subsist in the Directories. Her Honour found that Telstra was unable to identify an 'author' of any of the Directories as none of the witnesses contributed the necessary independent intellectual effort to be considered an 'author'. Her Honour also found that Telstra's system of preparing the Directories (i.e. the highly automated process) was designed to inhibit originality, which meant that the Directories did not meet the required standard for copyright to subsist.


In holding that no copyright exists in the Directories the Court commented:

  • Sweat of the brow is no substitute for originality. The Full Federal Court has again emphasised the traditional copyright dichotomy that copyright protects originality of expression of information, not information itself. Sweat of the brow and investment in the collection of information is no substitute for originality. While this can produce harsh results - i.e. the 'legitimate' misappropriation of another's investment, Chief Justice Keane has confirmed that this is not the concern of copyright. Hence the need for other legal strategies – e.g. as referred to above.
  • Human authorship is critical. Fundamental to the existence of copyright in computer generated works such as databases, is the need to identify human authors who are responsible for the selection and expression of the data. Although humans were ultimately in control of the software that Telstra used to create the directories, it was held that the software, not the individuals, that shaped the material form of expression in the directories.

For this to go further Telstra will now need to seek special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

1 Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd [2010] FCAFC 149 (15 December 2010)

2 See our February 2010 copyright update at

3 See for example details of the government 2.0 initiative at

4 IceTV Pty Limited v Nine Network Australia Pty Limited [2009] HCA 14 (22 April 2009)

© DLA Phillips Fox

DLA Phillips Fox is one of the largest legal firms in Australasia and a member of DLA Piper Group, an alliance of independent legal practices. It is a separate and distinct legal entity. For more information visit

This publication is intended as a first point of reference and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to any particular circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.