Walter v Lane

Walter v Lane
Court House of Lords
Full case name Walter and another (on behalf of themselves and all other the proprietors of the business of publishing and carrying on The Times Newspaper) and Lane
Decided 6 August 1900
Citation(s) [1900] AC 539
Case history
Prior action(s) Walter v Lane [1899] 2 Ch 749
Appealed from Court of Appeal of England and Wales
Court membership
Judges sitting Lord Chancellor Earl of Halsbury
Lord Davey
Lord James of Hereford
Lord Brampton
Lord Robertson

Walter v Lane [1900] AC 539, was a judgement of the House of Lords on the question of Authorship under the Copyright Act 1842. It has come to be recognised as a seminal case on the notion of originality in copyright law and has been upheld as an early example of the sweat of the brow doctrine.[1]


Reporters from The Times newspaper took down shorthand notes of a series of speeches given by the Earl of Roseberry, a prominent politician, and later transcribed them, adding punctuation, corrections and revisions to reproduce verbatim the speeches. These were then published in The Times.

The respondent in the case published a book including these speeches, taken substantially from the reports of those speeches in The Times. The question for the court was whether the reporters of the speech could be considered "authors" under the terms of the Copyright Act.


The House of Lords, by a 4-1 majority, reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal. The court held that the reporters were authors under the Copyright Act 1842. The effort, skill and time that spent was sufficient to make them original.

For Lord Brampton, was crucial that the "preparation [of the reports] involved considerable intellectual skill and brain labour beyond the mere mechanical operation of writing".[2]

Lord Robertson, dissenting, compared the reporters to phonographs and found that there was no authorship even though there was much skill required.[3]


Although the Copyright Act 1842 did not contain a notion of "originality" (the word original did not appear until the enactment of the Copyright Act 1911), the decision in Walter v Lane would later be treated as authority for the notion of "originality" within English copyright law.[4]

See also


  1. Gendreau, Ysolde (2009). An Emerging Intellectual Property Paradigm: Perspectives from Canada. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 151–152. ISBN 1847205976.
  2. Aplin, Tanya; Davis, Jennifer. Intellectual Property Law: Text and Materials. Oxford University Press. p. 73.
  3. Walter v Lane [1900] AC 539 at 561
  4. Sawkins v Hyperiod Records Ltd [2005] 3 All ER 636 at 643.
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