Excel Spreadsheet

If you are worried about infringement or your work has been copied and you want to take action.
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Excel Spreadsheet

Post by NeilBubb »


5 - 6 years ago, I created 2 Excel spreadsheets for a Pub Games League, to generator Fixtures and League Tables. I modified the basic template each season for the revised format of the League for that season.

Due to various disagreements, I withdrew my services, however a member(s) of the League Committee has copied my sheets and continued to use them, although they have created errors in to those sheets and they now do not work correctly. This copying and continued use was without my consent.

I understand "you can copyright your work and sell or distribute it as you see fit without permission and/or royalties to Microsoft. You can't sell Excel itself, but you can sell any workbook or add-in created with Excel. Copyright protection begins from the moment the work is put into tangible form, which for a workbook (or any computer software or document) would be simply saving the file to disc." The Chair denies copying my sheets, claiming them as his/Committee's own, even though I can prove the fixtures calculated exactly match my template.

Can I therefore advise the Committee they are infringing copyright laws, and I could press charges?


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Re: Excel Spreadsheet

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Neil,

While I can understand your frustration I don't think the circumstances are strong enough to support a claim for copyright infringement. There are several reasons for saying this. It is possible that the spreadsheet could be subject to something called database right, which I will discuss later. Even if there is some infringement of copyright or database right involved here, it would require a civil claim to be made ('pressing charges' relates to criminal law) and to do that you would need to define a specific outcome you are seeking, for example in this case, perhaps an injunction to prevent the committee continuing to use your intellectual property, or place a monetary value on your claim known as damages, ie the financial loss you have incurred.

First, as you have mentioned, the underlying software which runs the spreadsheet, Microsoft Excel, is obviously outside the discussion as the copyright in that program is held by Microsoft. What remains is data (the names of the teams/players, dates of matches, match results etc) and the various formulae embedded in the cells of the template which create the league structure or fixture list etc. Facts (ie the data) are not subject to copyright and the only part which might amount to creativity on your part is the coding structure. UK law provides copyright protection for 'computer programs', tables and compilations, and databases (see section 3(1) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988). Protection for computer programs came about because of an EU Directive known as the Software Directive (91/250/EEC) issued in 1991. The closest the Directive gets to defining what constitutes a computer program is to be found in Article 1
2. Protection in accordance with this Directive shall apply to the expression in any form of a computer program. Ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program, including those which underlie its interfaces, are not protected by copyright under this Directive. 3. A computer program shall be protected if it is original in the sense that it is the author's own intellec­tual creation. No other criteria shall be applied to deter­mine its eligibility for protection.
Things like macros, scripts and HTML code for instance can be considered as software provided that they are sufficiently original in the sense that they are the author's own creation. This is where the similarity between computer software and literary text can be seen. Words alone are the property of everyone and can be freely used. Copyright only begins to apply to the special way in which a human writer puts some of those words into a structure which represents his/her creativity such that the result is an expression of his/her personality. Clearly short, simple sentences do this less well than longer sentences with more internal structure, a wider choice of vocabulary and grammar. So it is with software. A simple formula which might be used in a spreadsheet such as (sum A1:A10, A11) involves hardly any original creativity as this is pretty much the only way to express that particular operation. It is only when you build up layer upon layer of such small bits of code that the author's creativity may begin to emerge. From this you can see that the relatively simple structure of a league table doesn't offer much opportunity for originality. This is why I think you would be unwise to fight a court case over these league table templates. The second issue with copyright is: has there been any copying? I am not clear from your posting how the Committee actually copied your work. If they merely continued using the spreadsheet from a previous season with the names (which are data, not protectable elements) in different starting positions then it is at least arguable that there was no actual duplication involved. Again this could be a difficult point to prove in litigation. And lastly it might be argued that the Committee had an implied right to use the template if you didn't actually tell them they couldn't do so. That is not quite the same as them using the template without your explicit consent. See Article 5 of the Software Directive:
Exceptions to the restricted acts
1. In the absence of specific contractual provisions, the acts referred to in Article 4 (a) and (b) shall not require authorization by the rightholder where they are necessary for the use of the computer program by the lawful acquirer in accordance with its intended purpose, inclu­ding for error correction.
Database Right.
Although a database can be subject to copyright providing that the majority of its contents are themselves subject to copyright (ie they are original creations of their author and are not just facts), there is also a separate stand alone right which protects the contents of a database provided that there has been a substantial investment (of skill, labour or money) in the obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database. You can find more details about this right in Part III of the Database Regulations SI 1997/3032. The important distinction here is that where copyright is concerned (see section 3 CDPA above) the selection or arrangement of the contents of the database constitutes the author’s own intellectual creation, but when it comes to database right it is all about the investment of resources used in the selection and arrangement of the contents. Now, obviously you had no choice over the selection of the players/teams which make up the league, but it is at least arguable that you determined their arrangement within the database. It then becomes a matter of debate about whether you made a substantial investment in creating the arrangement of the contents. Note that this involves a straightforward exercise in assessing how much time, effort, skill and if necessary, money, was involved in the preparatory steps necessary to present the results. Here it is not a matter of your creativity and it is not a valid argument for someone to say "well I could have done that". The purpose of database right is to protect that investment against someone who is not just a casual user of the database, and instead they scrape or mine very large amounts of the contents of the database for their own purposes. In this case, I don't think that describes the actions of the committee, since they are merely continuing to use the structure you created, rather than extracting the contents, which arguably are theirs in the first place. For this reason I think a claim under Part III of the Database Regulations is unlikely to be viable.

If you can't come to some reasonably amicable solution with the committee, then your best bet would be to find someone to act as an independent arbitrator to decide the matter. This could be a professional arbitrator/mediator or just a respected member of the local community who is independent of both parties. To find an professional arbitrator, contact Citizens Advice or you local county or district Court. I really don't think going to court will be worth the cost and stress involved.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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