Law Report: Documentary on funeral homes could be shown

Service Corporation International plc and another v Channel Four Television Corporation and another; Chancery Division (Mr Justice Lightman) 12 May 1998

WHERE a claim in copyright of film was used as a vehicle for a claim which truly lay in defamation, a television company would not be prevented by injunction from showing that film as part of a documentary programme, where they had a good prospect of establishing the defence of public interest.

The plaintiffs' application for an injunction to restrain the defendants from showing certain video film as part of a television documentary on funeral homes on the evening of 12 May was refused.

The second plaintiff, a subsidiary of the first plaintiff, owned and operated 584 funeral homes throughout the UK. In 1997 Ben Anderson, working undercover for the second defendant, which was making a documentary on funeral homes, was employed by the second plaintiff as a trainee funeral director at a funeral home in Salisbury. He covertly filmed certain events at the home, showing corpses being subjected to disrespectful and abusive treatment, and coffins with corpses in them being used as rubbish bins.

Charles Gray QC and Mark Warby (Dibb Lupton, Birmingham) for the plaintiffs; James Price QC and Jacob Dean (D.J. Freeman) for the defendants.

Mr Justice Lightman said that the starting-point in any application such as the present was the fundamental right and public interest in freedom of speech, the press and broadcasters protected by article 10 of the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Although the plaintiffs said that their application was motivated by the prospect of distress and concern amongst the 50 families who had used the Salisbury funeral home during the year that the events depicted had taken place, concern for the plaintiffs' reputation and goodwill plainly underlay the application.

If a claim based on some other cause of action was in reality a claim brought to protect the plaintiff's reputation, and the reliance on the other cause of action was merely a device to circumvent the rule against granting an injunction in a claim in defamation, the overriding need to protect freedom of speech required that the same rule be applied. It was very difficult to see the claims made in the present case as other than attempts to circumvent the rule and to seek protection for the plaintiffs' reputation.

The plaintiffs claimed equitable ownership of the copyright in the film, alleging that Mr Anderson was the "maker" of the film, and had made it during his working hours and in breach of his duties of fidelity owed to the plaintiffs. An employer was, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the owner of copyright in a work created by his employee in the course of his employment, and might be entitled in equity to the copyright in a work created by an employee otherwise than in the course of his employment if the employee had created the work in breach of his fiduciary duty to his employer. No breach of fiduciary duty could, however, be seen in the present case.

To succeed in the action the plaintiffs had to establish that they were entitled to copyright in the film and successfully to resist the defence that the showing of the film was in the public interest. The evidence before the court suggested that the defendants had a good prospect of establishing that defence.

Even if it were thought that the outcome of the litigation was uncertain, the court would exercise its discretion to refuse the injunction for the following reasons: the press and broadcasters should not be silenced on a matter so deeply affecting the public by a claim with limited or uncertain prospects of success; the balance of convenience favoured the refusal of an injunction, since the impact and value of the film depended on timing, news value and topicality; and the extraordinary and unacceptable delay by the plaintiffs in applying for the injunction.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice