Is Using an Excel Spreadsheet Template a Breach of Copyright?
Tal Williams, Partner
On 24 August 2011 the Federal Court handed down a decision which, in part, dealt with allegations of a breach of copyright where an employee used a financial modelling template created by his employer in Excel for his personal business interests. He included additional information in the materials, inputted new data but used the template to present the information.
Mr Reynolds (the employee in question) gave evidence that he understood that the form and template was commonplace and a standard business tool. He asserted that such templates were readily available in any commercial Excel spreadsheet program. He merely used his work’s version for the sake of convenience.
Justice Mansfield of the Federal Court found, however, that:
“the two templates were sophisticated documents, carefully prepared and developed over time for the particular purpose of [the employer] in determining the potential financial outcome of undertaking particular … opportunities”.
Although they used standard Excel formulae and methods, the end product was found to be owned by the employer and copyright in the template vested in the employer.
The Court formed the view that all, or substantially all, of the templates had been reproduced by Mr Reynolds and although he had added additional information and inputted new data, use of the templates constituted breach of his employer’s copyright.
Mr Reynolds was personally ordered to pay damages for the breach of copyright. Damages totalled $60,000.
The case is a good reminder to businesses to ensure that their workers, employees, consultants, contractors and agents are fully aware that copyright subsists in anything created by the business or by the businesses employees, even if it may take the form or include information that the employee’s think is commonplace.
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