Programmer granted royalties from commissioned software

A computer programmer has been granted royalties in systems he developed even though no proper copyright agreement existed when the material was commissioned. The programmer was awarded more than £45,000.

The case was fought between programmer Stephen Landamore and the man who commissioned the software, Laurence Wrenn. The High Court ruled that though there was an implied licence for Wrenn to use Landamore's material, it stopped short of a full assignment of copyright to Wrenn.

Wrenn ran a business in which he produced interfaces for cars and audio equipment, and hired Landamore to produce interfaces which he sold. There was no agreement at the time regarding the ownership of copyright in the works.

In the absence of agreement, the law in the UK says that copyright rests with the author, although when material is commissioned there is an implied licence or even, in some cases, an implied transfer of copyright to the commissioner.

As their business progressed, Landamore and Wrenn fell out over the rights to the software. They formed a company in which they each held a 50% stake, but they still ended up in a court dispute about rights to the software that was created before the company was formed.

Wrenn argued that his hiring of Landamore should have implied an assignment of the copyright in the works from him to Wrenn. Landamore said that only a non-exclusive licence should have been implied, though his lawyers later accepted that it should be an exclusive licence.

Robert Englehart QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court, said that an implied exclusive licence did exist, but that Wrenn was not entitled to an assignment of copyright to him.

He used as his basis a previous judgment in a case involving Robin Ray and Classic FM in which the trial judge said that the lightest remedy in such cases should be used, meaning that if the need to imply licence terms could involve either a licence or a transfer of copyright, courts should opt for a licence.

The two parties also clashed over royalty payments. Landamore claimed that he had been promised a royalty payment for every unit sold by Wrenn which used his technology. Wrenn admitted in court that he promised a results-based payment but said that he was "uncomfortable" with the word royalty.

Englehart said that "when giving evidence Mr Wrenn came across as a short tempered person very dismissive of anyone who did not say or do as he wished".

"Where there was a disagreement in evidence between Mr Wrenn and Mr Landamore and the documents did not shed much light on a matter, I should say that I formed the view that in general Mr Landamore was a more reliable witness than Mr Wrenn," said Englehart.

He awarded the royalties that Landamore claimed of £45,324.24, plus interest.