Copyright is a statutory right under the Copyright Act
1968 (Cth) ('the Act') that protects
certain forms of creative output, including the expression of ideas
or information. Unlike patents or trade marks, copyright arises
automatically; there is no requirement for any formal
The bundle of rights that you receive under the Act depends on
the type of copyright material that you own, whether that be art,
literature, music, film, broadcasts, computer programs and the
Background to the case
In 1937 J. R. R. Tolkien released his fantasy novel named
The Lord of the Rings. Set in a fictional world named
"Middle-earth", the novel is centred on the "One
Ring", a weapon that could be used to conquer and rule all of
Middle-earth. As depicted below, the One Ring is inscribed with a
language that was created by JRR Tolkien and known as "Black
('the One Ring Inscription')
Until the Federal Court handed down its judgment in August this
year, the Respondent had been using several online platforms to
sell gold rings bearing the One Ring Inscription.
Accordingly, Tolkien Estate Limited ('the
Estate'), the successor in title to J. R. R. Tolkien,
brought an action against Alexander Saltalamacchia
('the Respondent') for infringing its
copyright in One Ring Inscription.
In February and March this year the Estate issued several
letters to the Respondent demanding that he stop selling the rings.
After receiving no response to the letters, the Estate commenced
At trial the Estate sought summary judgement on the basis that
the Respondent had no reasonable prospect of successfully defending
the proceeding. Justice Beach agreed with the Estate and found that
the evidence (as summarised above) clearly demonstrated that the
Respondent had infringed the Estate's copyright.
It was undisputed that the Book is a literary or artistic work
for the purposes of the Act, so the Court only had to consider the
extent of the infringing conduct and the remedies that should be
awarded to the Estate.
The Respondent argued that the inscription on his rings were not
an exact replica of the One Ring Inscription because of a gap in
the lettering. Justice Beach rejected this, noting that the law
only requires the plaintiff to prove that the Respondent has
reproduced a substantial part of its copyright.
Justice Beach held that the Respondent infringed the
Estate's copyright by:
Reproducing a substantial part of the One Ring
Selling rings bearing a reproduction of a substantial part of
the One Ring Inscription;
Offering for sale rings bearing a reproduction of a substantial
part of the One Ring Inscription;
Communicating a substantial part of the One Ring Inscription to
the public; and
Be permanently restrained from infringing the Estate's
Deliver up all material in his possession that infringed the
Pay damages or an account of profits to the Estate in an amount
to be determined;
Disclose all essential details relating to the sale of the
infringing rings; and
Pay the Estate's costs in the proceeding.
Importance of the case
This case serves as a cautionary tale: the Respondent did not
obtain from the Estate the consent or licence to use the One Ring
Inscription, nor did he respond to infringement notices issued by
Significant amounts of time and effort are invested in the
creation of copyright material and it represents a valuable
commodity to individuals and businesses. Accordingly, copyright
owners can and will go to great lengths to enforce their
intellectual property rights and seek a broad range of remedies
where there is evidence of infringement.
Pointon Partners has extensive experience in copyright law and
can assist with the protection, assignment, sale and licensing of
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Two recent decisions highlight that it is important for users of copyright material to be aware of moral rights.
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