Image supplied by University of London Archives.
Decided not long after the coming into force of the codified Copyright Act 1911, the case established the striking difference between what constitutes a “literary work” for the purposes of copyright and “literature”. Peterson J. was asked to decide whether examination papers were subject to copyright, he gave a definitive answer: “it may be difficult to define literary work as used in the Act, but it seems to be plain that it is not confined to literary work in the sense in which the phrase is applied, for instance, to Meredith’s novels and the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson”. Ten years before the case, the University of London had already received a favourable legal opinion from counsel as to its likely success were the University to institute proceedings against bodies such as the University Correspondence College for publishing the University’s examination papers. This case was not brought against the University Correspondence College but against the University of Tutorial Press. What triggered the litigation was the contractual relationship between the University and the plaintiff, the University of London Press, which considered the principle of publishing a set of examination papers as a profitable enterprise. On 27 July 1916, Peterson J. gave his judgment and he carefully distinguished those examination papers in which the ownership had been vested in the University of London Press from those papers where the action failed for lack of title. In making this distinction, he highlighted that the action concerning the exam papers written by C.S. Jackson and A. Lodge, who had joined as co-plaintiffs, had to succeed. However, he left for posterity one of the most problematic maxims in British copyright law: “What is worth copying is prima facie worth protecting”. An example of those exam papers, surely one the most famous literary works in British copyright history, can be seen here.