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Virtual Map (Singapore) Pte Ltd v. Suncool International Pte Ltd [2005]2 SLR 157; [2005] SGHC 19

With the emergence of the internet, the interpretation of copyrights in intellectual property derived from such electronic environment is put to the test. A recent example is a lawsuit filed by Virtual Maps against Suncool International.

Virtual Map had earlier on issued letters of demand to almost 100 companies in Singapore for downloading maps from its www.streetdirectory.com constituting to copyright infringement. This recent ruling will probably result in these companies facing court action to settle the matter out of court.

The plaintiff, Virtual Map, creates digital street maps of Singapore. The maps are created from certain vector data granted to Virtual Map from the Singapore Land Authority (“SLA”) via a non-exclusive licence.

The defendant, Suncool International, is in the business of solar control films, security and fire-fighting equipment installation.

Suncool International reproduced a map image without Virtual Map’s permission, to show the location of their office location on their corporate website.

Plaintiff’s entitlement

Suncool argued that Virtual Map has no locus standi to initiate action as it does not own copyrights to the virtual maps. Suncool further argued that the copyright in the maps resides with the SLA.

Comparisons were made with the SLA licensed vector data and also, those of other map publishers. There was a high degree of similarity between the maps, however, Justice Lai Kew Chai pointed out that this was due to the maps being produced based of cartographic data which forms the basis of the non-exclusive licence between the SLA and the map publishers. The Learned judge referred to MacMillan Publishers Limited v Thomas Reed Publications Limited [1993] FSR 455 wherein summary judgment was granted against the defendant for copying its chartlets in the almanac. The facts in this MacMillan case prove relevant to the present case. The said chartlets were based on admiralty charts which were the subject of Crown copyright.

The Court was satisfied that Virtual Map has invested sufficient skill and labour in creating the maps from SLA’s raw vector data and therefore, has established independent copyrights credentials in the maps. It follows that Virtual Map is entitled to commence proceeding in its own rights.

de minimis copying

Although Suncool admitted to copying the map, it raised the argument that the copying was not a substantial taking, compared to the total land area of Singapore. Justice Lai observed that the copied portion, though small in comparison, required much skill and effort to create and further skill to arrange each individual maps to create a seamless collection of maps. Therefore, copyright resides in each of these individual maps.

The High Court ruled in favor of Virtual Map and dismissed the Suncool appeal.

Source: lwb.lawnet.com.sg, Legal Workbench, Legal Prospector 2, Judgment Digests and Summaries