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Saturday, 2 October 2004


Sweet & Maxwell's New Law Online subscription service brings news of a curious copyright-related decision from the United Kingdom. In Settelen v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [2004] EWHC 2171 (Ch), a Chancery Division decision of Peter Smith J last Thursday. Back in the early 1990s, after her marriage broke down, the late Princess of Wales had asked Settelen for help in making speeches. Settelen, who recorded several of his sessions with her on videotapes, alleged that either he or his company was (i) the "author" of the tapes within the meaning of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 s.9 and (ii) the first owner of the copyright under s.11 of the same Act. The tapes had been among items seized by the police commissioner in the course of an investigation into the property of the late princess that was held by her butler, who was subsequently acquitted of committing any criminal offence.

After it was decided that Settelen was indeed the owner of the tapes, they were returned to him. However, it was later conceded that the commissioner had made a copy of one of the tapes, which he retained for use in his investigation into the princess's death as well as into the death of one of her close protection officers. Settelen applied for delivery up of the copy.

Peter Smith J granted Settelen's application. He ruled that the original purpose for which the tapes had been seized ceased to be a justification for their retention following the acquittal of the late princess's butler. Nor was there any justification for the copying of one of the tapes after the acquittal. He added that, once it was shown that the butler had not stolen the tapes, the police had no power to retain that property as against Settelen on the basis of some uncertain future contingency. Although the commissioner had the power to retain an item of property initially seized during the butler's investigation, but then retained as possible evidence for the investigation into the committal of other offences, it could only be retained so long as was necessary in all the circumstances. Although it was accepted that the police needed the tape as evidence for any further investigation, that did not provide a justification for the retention of the copy.

The IPKat notes that Settelen had offered an undertaking to preserve the copy as well as the original tape in the possession of his solicitors, which would serve the dual purpose of preserving the copy for the police while respecting Settelen's right to possession of his property. This undertaking was presumably unnecessary, given the judge's ruling.

How videotape works here; sex, lies and videotape here; other tape here, here and here

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