The Court of Appeal has recently given judgment in the case of Norowzian v Arks & ors. The case is expected to have a significant impact on the media and film industry.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal brought by Mehdi Norowzian against the judgment of Mr Justice Rattee. In July 1998 Justice Rattee held that the Guinness Anticipation advertisement, featuring a man dancing around a pint of Guinness to salsa music, did not infringe the copyright in Norowzian's short film called Joy.
But the Court of Appeal's decision has further implications. The court held that Joy was a dramatic work under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).
Lord Justice Nourse defined a dramatic work as "a work of action, with or without words or music, which is capable of being performed before an audience". This includes anything capable of being shown before an audience.
Lord Justice Nourse recognised that one of the effects of the judgment is that cartoons could now be classed as dramatic works and as such receive protection under copyright law. Justice Rattee had previously held that a dramatic work had to be capable of physical human performance.
The case is the first in which UK courts have given such a broad interpretation to dramatic work in the context of films.
The decision means that the use of film and editing techniques and styles in combination with other aspects of a film may lead to the creation of a separate original dramatic work over and above the dramatic work that a film itself may record.
English copyright law previously protected films by preventing direct copying only (see Norowzian v Arks & ors  FSR 394). The Court of Appeal's decision now means that the owner of a dramatic film copyright will be able to prevent reproduction of the work in any material form.
The decision is likely to be regarded favourably by film directors. But in an industry where the borrowing of techniques and styles is commonplace, the decision is also likely to complicate matters for those who advise the industry.