When the hunter becomes the hunted

I know this sounds like a Stephen King on Discovery channel special but it is not.Life is sometimes funny.
Written by ZDNet Staff, Contributor

I know this sounds like a Stephen King on Discovery channel special but it is not.

Life is sometimes funny. In the Iran-Iraq war of the early eighties, the United States leaned toward Saddam Hussein by sending then-special envoy Donald Rumsfield to meet the President in Baghdad. And in the final match of the 1988-89 season of the Football League First Division, Michael Thomas scored a last-minute goal to hand Arsenal the title above Liverpool--he was later transferred to Liverpool.

In a similar vein, last month, Singapore map company Virtual Map, provider of www.streetdirectory.com, found itself on the losing end of a court decision for copyright infringement over street maps. This announcement comes a few years after the company itself won lawsuits for copyright infringement over its street maps.

Local English daily The Straits Times described Virtual Map's managing director Firdhaus Akbar as being "audibly bitter" during a telephone interview. Firdaus also told another local daily TODAY that over 2,000 users have appealed for www.streetdirectory.com to be put back online--it was taken down after the company lost the court case, and that "only a small minority hates the company".

Questions have been raised on the status of the settlements entered into between Virtual Map and other companies a few years back, and whether the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which won last month's court case, may now have a claim against those who got licenses from Virtual Map to use its maps and are still currently using such maps.

I do not advocate ill-feelings of any form, including against online service providers. I do, however, think this episode illustrates certain legal principles and lessons we can learn from:

  • (i) There is copyright even in a work based on an infringed work, so Virtual Map still has a valid claim against those who had copied its maps;
  • (ii) When one settles a copyright infringement claim, the intent is to pay for the damages for what it would have taken to obtain the license of the copyright. Hence, even in settling a suit, the rights obtained (in this instance, the copyright license) in payment of the settlement should be expressly stated; and
  • (iii) Get an indemnity or assurance whenever you receive an intellectual property license.

Still up in the air is the question over damages, as rulings were not made to damages arising from the copyright infringement claimed by Virtual Map and the court has not determined the amount of damages payable to the SLA.

Presumably, this decision when released will guide future parties on the value of copyright in maps.

Meanwhile, Virtual Map has taken its case to the Court of Appeal.

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