No magic wand for Lancashire County Council: The Lancashire Witch Walks copyright case

October 12, 2018, By

Halloween will be upon us again before long so when is there a better time to come across an intellectual property story with a ‘witch’ theme than now!

The Pendle Witch trials are perhaps the most famous in England and the 12 witches accused lived in and around the beautiful Pendle Hills. To encourage tourism in the area and promote the history of the witches, Mr Thornton-Bryar wrote a walking guide to the area called ‘The Lancashire Witches Walks’. Lancashire County Council thought it rather good and in 2014 copied the booklet on their Forest of Bowland website. The material was removed. Then a year later the material appeared on the website again. Mr Thornton-Bryar complained again and was ignored. He engaged lawyers to help him and one way of another ended up in court.

The court found that the Council had copied a substantial part of Mr Thornton-Bryar’s work and it ordered the Council to pay damages of £9000 for the unlawful use, plus £10,000 on account for the flagrancy and blatant disregard of Mr Thornton-Bryar’s rights and a further sum to cover his costs. Hardly a witches hanging but justice for Mr Thornton-Bryar none the less.

The Council have expressed their regret – and who wouldn’t be regretful after wasting tax payers money on defending such a claim.

What is odd about this case is why it needed to cost the Council so much and why it went to court at all. The judge found sustainable copying and the Council if they had taken advice would have understood that the case was not likely to be decided in their favour. One can only think that they perhaps had a magic wand up their sleeves that they thought would do the trick. Happy Halloween!

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