Copyright law, case I C 238/06

June 15th, 2009, Tomasz Rychlicki

In the town of Bochnia, the so-called annual “Bochnia Independence Half-Marathon” used to take place. The event had been organized by the town and county authorities, in collaboration with the originator, one Zenon G., ever since year 2001. As the name indicates – the event’s primarily purpose was to celebrate the regained independence of the town of Bochnia and attracted a substantial amount of participants each and every year. The cooperation between the county and the “founding father” lasted for 4 happy years until it was broken off abruptly in 2005, due to a dispute that sparked over money. The authorities of Bochnia decided to organize the marathon on their own, without either the help or the permission of the originator. This understandably got the latter’s hackles up. The case ended up in court.

The District Court in Tarnów in its judgment of 20 December 2007 case file I C 238/06 held that the route of the half-marathon is an artistic work. The originator accused the county and the mayor of infringing his copyrights, claiming that both the initiative as well as the sole idea to organize the run, along with the manner in which the whole event was planned and arranged, met the prerequisites of an artistic work within the meaning of the polish copyright law, including the requirements of “creativity” and “individual character”.

The Court before which the case appeared, agreed with the Claimant’s theory and held that whenever talking about an artistic work within the meaning of Article 1 of the Polish Act of 4 February 1994 on Authors Rights and Neighbouring Rights – ARNR – (in Polish: ustawa o prawie autorskim i prawach pokrewnych), published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 24, item 83, consolidated text of 16 May 2006, Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 90, item 631 with subsequent amendments, “the entirety of features, in their original juxtaposition” should be taken into consideration. The Court emphasized that the fact that the commonly available elements had been used to create the work, does not necessarily mean that such work does not fall within the definition of an artistic work under the Article 1 of the AARNR. Although, as a matter of rule, such individual elements, in and of themselves, are never protected under the polish law, any and all compilations thereof do get protection so long the manner in which they’re segregated, arranged and presented demonstrates certain degree of originality and creativity. In the Court’s opinion the process of creating a work is a subjective one and is a “projection of the author’s imagination”. If the result of such process is original and unique enough (meaning it can be easily distinguished from any other results of human activity), then it shall be protected by law as an artistic work. This happens every time we deal with a specific configuration of elements, particularly relevant and accurate when juxtaposed with the intended result, where the author uses his unbound discretion to select and arrange such elements. To apply this to the case at hand, the Claimant’s idea to organize the half-marathon to celebrate the town’s Independence Day along with a scrutine preparation of the marathon race plan so as to obtain a special certificate of the Polish Athletics Association, meet the requirements of an artistic work, as understood by the Act. The fact that similar race events had been organized by the town of Bochnia long before 2001 remained without any effect on the Court’s conclusion.

In particular the Claimant prepared the race plan independently, selected the respective streets of the city in such a way that the whole race plan would constitute an entirety, had a proper paving, that is a hardened one, and so that there were no substantial differences in route gradient. The race plan should take account of the conditioning of the terrain, routes of public transportation and additionally the length of the route should equal half the length of the actual marathon. Moreover, the Claimant saw to it that the race plan be certified and the result, which the participants of the race would likely achieve, could be comparable to those achieved in other like races in the country. The race plan has been recorded in the form of a map with the marathon route marked on it and the race description attached. To plan the route in such, and not other, way determines its originality and creativity, since no one has ever before drew the route of the Bochnia race in such topographic layout.

Additionally, the Court pointed to the new categories of the participants (teachers and persons with disabilities), in comparison to those of the Bochnia races that were organized before 2001, highlighting at the same time that “the requirement of novelty is not an inevitable feature of an artistic work”. The Court rejected the argument that any other person could prepare the race plan of the said half-marathon and reiterated, after the Supreme Court, that “the possibility of achieving analogical results by two different authors does not suffice to deprive a particular act of creativity, of the individual character.”

To conclude, the District Court in Tarnow held that by organizing the “Bochnia Independence Half-Marathon” against the will of the originator and using the race plan prepared by him, the Respondents infringed upon the latter’s copyrights. Hence, the Claimant was entitled to the protection of the polish copyright law. In the Court’s opinion the Respondents should have never free ridden on someone else’s creative efforts and should have come up with their own idea and race plan.

See also “Polish regulations on copyright” and “Polish case law on copyright“.