Court dismisses PropertyGuru's copyright lawsuit

In a blog post, 99.co founder and chief executive Darius Cheung called the judgment a “victory for the Internet”.
In a blog post, 99.co founder and chief executive Darius Cheung called the judgment a “victory for the Internet”.
PropertyGuru group executive director Jani Rautiainen said the verdict “sends a strong message about fair play and good business ethics”.
PropertyGuru group executive director Jani Rautiainen said the verdict “sends a strong message about fair play and good business ethics”.

Ruling to significantly shape intellectual property law here: Lawyers

The biggest property listing portal in Singapore which said a rival had infringed its copyright had its claims thrown out in the High Court yesterday - a decision that lawyers said would significantly shape intellectual property law here.

Last September PropertyGuru took 99.co to court, claiming it had, among other things, infringed its copyright by reproducing photos bearing the PropertyGuru watermark on the 99.co website without permission.

These photos were first uploaded on the PropertyGuru website by property agents using the site, and were automatically edited to be resized and bear the PropertyGuru watermark.

Later, some of these photos were transferred to the 99.co website through a third-party app, as well as manually through an independent contractor.

In her judgment yesterday, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said the copying, enlargement or resizing of an artistic work does not make the resulting image a copyrighted work.

She added: "The addition of the watermark does not, in my judgment, make the altered image an original work."

She also threw out PropertyGuru's claims that 99.co had induced property agents to breach their contracts, as well as 99.co's counterclaim that PropertyGuru had made groundless threats.

Commenting on the ruling, Robinson LLC lawyer Cyril Chua said the judgment has "definitively" laid out that "resizing a photograph and slapping on a watermark does not count as having sufficient transformative value". "In this case, I believe there wasn't enough skill, labour and judgment from PropertyGuru to warrant what constitutes a copyright," he said.

In a blog post, 99.co founder and chief executive Darius Cheung called the judgment a "victory for the Internet", noting it was "common sense" that the rights of a photo should ultimately still belong to the user.

However, Justice Hoo ruled in favour of PropertyGuru on a claim that 99.co had breached part of a 2015 settlement agreement, which was to refrain from reproducing any contents from its rival's website.

99.co was found to have "substantially reproduced" one listing with nine photographs on its website. It did so by engaging an independent contractor who manually accessed a housing agent's listings on PropertyGuru and copied them to the 99.co website.

On this count, Justice Hoo granted an injunction to restrain 99.co from continuing to breach the terms of the agreement through such service, and gave 99.co 30 days to stop doing so. PropertyGuru was also given the right to assess damages.

PropertyGuru group executive director Jani Rautiainen said the verdict "sends a strong message about fair play and good business ethics".

"If a business takes an unfair shortcut and breaks the rules, it should be held to account for it," he said.

PropertyGuru group executive director Jani Rautiainen said the verdict "sends a strong message about fair play and good business ethics". In a blog post, 99.co founder and chief executive Darius Cheung called the judgment a "victory for the Internet".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Court dismisses PropertyGuru's copyright lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe