In France, copyright is granted to original works or, as the French Courts say, to works of the mind that bear the stamp of their author’s personality. But you do not just claim that a work is original. To benefit from copyright protection, you need to show how and why a specific work should be deemed original, to show what original features it bears.
Otherwise, your copyright infringement action could be rejected or, even worse, your writ of summons could be found inadmissible.
That is what a French air vents manufacturer recently learnt at his expense following a decision from the Court of Appeals of Paris on April 12, 2013. After the manufacturer stopped supplying a nation-wide network of hardware shops with its air vents, he observed that what he considered identical and highly similar air vents were still available in these shops. He consequently decided to file a lawsuit against the network and its new supplier and claimed that its copyright over a few air vents designs had been infringed.
Before the judge directing the preparation for the hearing, the defendants argued that the writ of summons was too short and too vague for them to prepare a proper defense.
The Court of Appeals in charge of supervising the proceedings agreed. The Court stated that the writ of summons must be sufficiently specific and detailed to enable the defendant to know exactly what the plaintiff claims and that its validity must be assessed in light of the matter at stake.
In this case, not only did the plaintiff omit to make a comprehensive comparison between the different designs of air vents, but he did not define with sufficient accuracy what were the works he claimed he had copyright in or even why such works should be protected by copyright at all.
In addition, the Court observed that the plaintiff did not explain or demonstrated why he, as a company, should be the copyright holder whereas French Law provides that copyright is normally entitled to authors as physical persons (in order to do so, the plaintiff should have shown that the works at stake were disclosed by him and under his name).
According to the judges, such casual behavior does not meet the requirement of fairness that should govern the proceedings.
This perfectly justified decision deserves our approval. Copyright is a serious matter and one should not file a copyright infringement lawsuit as a desperate alternative when they do not have any other right to invoke.
This decision also makes a good case for protection through French Design Law which, in some way, is much easier to implement.
When someone believes they created products with original features, they really should contemplate filing French or Community design applications. Because once such designs are registered (and they are registered almost without examination within a few days or weeks), they benefit from a presumption of validity. Therefore, in case of an infringement action based on registered designs, it is the defendant that needs to demonstrate the designs should not be protected and should not have been registered.
In our case, such a strategy would undoubtedly have saved the air vents manufacturer many disappointments.