Global Yellow Pages loses copyright lawsuit

The publisher behind the Yellow Pages directories has lost its suit against a rival for alleged copyright infringement, after the High Court dismissed its claims.

Global Yellow Pages (GYP) had alleged that Promedia Directories, which publishes the Green Book, had copied from four of its directories from 2003 to 2009. The directories are three printed ones - the Business Listings, the Yellow Pages Business and the Yellow Pages Consumer - and the online Internet Yellow Pages.

But Justice George Wei, in judgment grounds issued last week, ruled that GYP did not have copyright in some of the works cited. As there was no copyright, there was no infringement.

In the cited works in which GYP had copyright, the judge found that there was no infringement by Promedia, as there was no substantial reproduction that could amount to infringement.

The judge dismissed GYP' s entire claim of copyright infringement and allowed Promedia's counter-claim against it for groundless threat of copyright infringement. He ordered damages on the counter-claim payable by GYP to be assessed separately; Promedia was also awarded costs.

It is understood the test case - first filed in 2009 and culminating in a 23-day trial in late 2014 - is important in clarifying copyright laws, with potential impact on other directory publishers.

At issue is whether any firm should have intellectual property rights over published names, addresses, phone and fax numbers of firms and businesses, which are facts for information.

"Copyright does not subsist in individual listings. The form of expression contained in the listings does not meet the level of originality - if there is any originality at all - for copyright protection to be conferred," said Justice Wei.

To grant GYP copyright protection over the individual listings would be tantamount to granting it copyright over them, and "thus a monopoly over the use of the bare facts themselves", he said in the judgment grounds.

GYP's lawyers Bryan Ghows and Wang Yingyu had argued there were "substantial similarities" between Promedia's printed Green Book, digital CD-ROM directory and online directory, and the Yellow Pages listings.

GYP claimed copyright in the individual listings, such as a name, address and telephone number, noting that it had to verify, enhance and classify the raw data from telcos Singtel and M1.

It also claimed copyright in listings under a classification such as engineers or doctors.

GYP alleged that Promedia could not have obtained information on these listings without copying them from GYP's own directories.

Promedia's lawyers G. Radakrishnan and Mark Teng denied GYP's claims "tooth and nail", pointing out that telephone directories, being fact-based, will inevitably be similar in content.

Promedia added that it had its own database of companies and businesses, which was regularly updated from different sources.

The judge held that while GYP would own the copyright in its directories as a whole and the copyright in the compilations in each directory, there is no copyright in the individual listings as "they are essentially facts, and there cannot be copyright in facts".

"It is senseless to speak of anyone... owning or having copyright monopoly over the use of the information in each parcel of subscriber information or each subscriber listing.

"These are facts which no one can claim copyright ownership over; they are entitled to be used by everyone," said Justice Wei.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'Global Yellow Pages loses copyright lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe