No copyright in headlines

On 7 September the Federal Court of Australia handed down its decision in Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Reed International Books Australia Pty Ltd [2010] FCA 984. This was the first time an Australian court had dealt with the specific question of the subsistence of copyright in headlines.

Fairfax argued that Reed had infringed its copyright in the headlines from The Australian Financial Review by reproducing them in its LexisNexisAU online database. Bennett J held, however, that a headline was not a literary work because – in the same way that titles are not afforded protection – they are ‘simply too insubstantial and too short to qualify for copyright protection‘ (para 44). While acknowledging the possibility that a title of ‘so extensive and of such a significant character’ could be sufficient to warrant a finding of copyright protection’ (para 46) as in Francis Day v Hunter, this was not the case here. Furthermore, Her Honour observed that ‘[if] titles were subject to copyright protection, conventional bibliographic references to an article would infringe’ (para 48).

Even if the headline and the article were taken together to be a literary work, Reed had not taken a substantial part of the work by reproducing the headline. The case may be read in full here.

One Response to “No copyright in headlines”
  1. Mark H says:

    this also applies to business names and product names – both are also too “unsubstantial” for copyright protection. Thanks for the information on headlines!

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