In IT Human Resources PLC v Land the question for the High Court was whether an employer was out of time for bringing proceedings for infringement of copyright against a former director.
David Land was employed by and was a founding director of IT Human Resources PLC (ITHR). The Company is a recruitment agency, specialising in personnel who provide IT services. Mr Land created some software called Interact. Nationwide Technology Recruitment Limited was another IT staff recruitment agency. Mr Land was not a director of that Company but he did work for it from time to time over a number of years. Nationwide was dissolved in 2011.
ITHR maintained that it owned the copyright in the Interact source code and database schema. Mr Land accepted that ITHR owned the sources code but not the database schema. ITHR claimed that he infringed the copyright by making the software available to Nationwide. Mr Land accepted that he had provided the software to Nationwide, but not on as many occasions as was alleged. He also accepted that, without permission from ITHR, his actions would have been in breach of copyright. However he maintained that he had permission, given orally by ITHR, on all occasions that he provided the software to Nationwide.
Mr Justice Morgan decided that if the database schema were part of the source code then they were owned by ITHR. If not, they were nonetheless part of the Interact system and the relevant agreement provided for the software in the system to be owned by ITHR. Consequently, either way, ITHR owned all the relevant rights.
It was found that Mr Land had provided copyright material to Nationwide on a number of occasions between 2000 and 2002. These acts amounted to copyright infringement. There may have been further infringements from mid-2002 to April or May 2003. the reason for uncertainty is that further functionality was added to the software from mid-2002. In the event Mr Justice Morgan concluded that the infringements continued until April/May 2003. There was a further infringement on 12 December 2006 when a backup of the database was made. He also found that Mr Land knew that it was not in the interests of ITHR to provide Interact to Nationwide.It followed that he was acting in breach of his fiduciary duties as a director of ITHR.
In general the time limit for commencing proceedings for copyright infringement (and most other causes of action) is six years from the accrual of the cause of action.
On that basis all the alleged infringements bar the 2006 backup would be out of time since the claim form in the proceedings was issued on 3 October 2011.