Stevenson, Jordan & Harrison Ltd v MacDonald & Evans (1952) 1 TLR 101 is a significant UK labour law case that addresses the complex issue of copyright ownership in the context of an individual's work created in the course of employment.
In this case, a management engineer authored a book that incorporated knowledge he had acquired while working for a firm. What makes this situation intricate is that he served in two distinct roles within the company – first as an ordinary employee and later as an executive officer. The content of the book drew from two primary sources: the text of lectures that the engineer had written and delivered, and material he had gathered during specific work assignments. Unfortunately, the engineer passed away before his book could be published.
The Copyright Act 1911, Section 5(1), played a pivotal role in this case. This section stipulates that the initial owner of the copyright in a work is the author. However, an exception is provided within the law: if the author of a work is under a contract of service, and the work is created in the course of employment, the default copyright ownership belongs to the employer. This principle holds unless there is a different agreement in place.
The central question that emerged in this case revolved around whether the management engineer could be classified as an employee under a contract of service as defined by Section 5(1) of the Copyright Act 1911.
In delivering the judgment, the Court of Appeal provided a critical distinction between a contract of service" and a contract for services concerning the relationship between the individual and the firm.
- Control test: The Court applied the traditional control test to determine the nature of the employment relationship. It examined whether the employer had the right to control the way in which the individual carried out his work. In cases where the employer had substantial control over the work, it was more likely to be considered a contract of service, indicating an employee-employer relationship.
- Integration test: The Court also emphasised that a person is regarded as an employee under a contract of service when his work is fully integrated into the business and constitutes an integral part of the business operations. On the other hand, an independent contractor providing services is an accessory to the business, without his work being an integral part of it.
Based on the specific facts of this case, the Court concluded that the management engineer's employment arrangement exhibited elements of both contract of service (employee) and contract for services (independent contractor) at different points in time.
The Court's ultimate decision was twofold. It recognised the management engineer as the author of the work, acknowledging his creative ownership. However, the Court also ruled that certain material the engineer had acquired during his employment fell within the scope of the Copyright Act 1911. As a result, this specific material was to be excluded from the publication, and copyright ownership would be vested in the employer.
This case clarified the concept of an employee under a contract of service and its impact on the ownership of intellectual property, particularly when a work is created in an employment context, where the work's integration into the business plays a crucial role in determining copyright ownership.
You can learn more about this topic with our Intellectual Property notes.