In a decision which will be of interest to fabric designers and manufacturers, the Patents County Court (“PCC”) has confirmed that copying a fabric design can infringe copyright in the “ticket stamp” instructions for the design.
A ticket stamp is a record in numbers and words of the combinations of colours, the number of threads for each colour, and the thickness and spacing of the lines and blocks, which make up a fabric design. It is in effect a set of instructions on how to set up the loom to produce a fabric design.
The defendants argued that their fabric pattern had been designed independently, but the PCC was not persuaded of this on the evidence and found that there was a strong inference of copying.In this case, the Abraham Moon mill argued that a rival’s ‘Spring Meadow’ fabric was an infringement of its popular ‘Skye Sage’ design. Both designs consisted of a large plaid pattern in natural light brown and pale purple grey shades with highlights in dark purple and maroon. The designs were used in upholstery and furnishings.
The key question in the case was whether there had been copying of any work which could be protected by copyright.
The Skye Sage ticket stamp – artistic copyright
The PCC found that the Skye Sage ticket stamp was not only a set of instructions: it was also a record of a visual image – the fabric design itself. To an experienced fabric designer the ticket stamp had a real visual significance because the designer could visualise the fabric design from the information recorded on the ticket stamp. The ticket stamp was therefore a graphic work protected by artistic copyright.
As the Spring Meadow fabric reproduced the whole or a substantial part of the Skye Sage design embodied in the ticket stamp instructions it infringed the artistic copyright in the Skye Sage ticket stamp.
The Skye Sage ticket stamp – literary copyright
The PCC also found that the Skye Sage ticket stamp was protected by literary copyright. However, the Spring Meadow fabric design did not infringe that copyright because the fabric design was not a copy of the words and numbers in the ticket stamp.
The PCC did find that the Spring Meadow ticket stamp indirectly reproduced a substantial part of the literary copyright in the Skye Sage ticket stamp. The Spring Meadow ticket stamp therefore infringed the literary copyright in the Sky Sage ticket stamp.
This case shows that records of instructions for creating a fabric design can be protected by both artistic copyright as well as literary copyright, even though an experienced eye would be needed to recognise the correlation between the instructions and the design produced from them. It serves as a reminder for those in the fashion industry that the Courts will take a pragmatic approach when deciding whether something is a graphic work which may be protected by copyright – the key being to look at the content of the work and not the medium in which it is recorded. It is also a reminder that infringement of a graphic work (whether a ticket stamp, a drawing or another work) can occur indirectly by copying a fabric made in the work.
Abraham Moon & Sons Limited v Thornber & Others  EWPCC 37
6 March 2013