Two leading property listing portals in Singapore, PropertyGuru and 99.co, found themselves locked in a legal battle that began in 2016, culminating in the Singapore High Court’s decision released on 9 March 2018.
PropertyGuru took issue with the use of a third-party application used for cross-posting, the Xpressor Application, as well as 99.co’s manual “Posting Assistant” or “PA” service, both used by end users of both portals to copy their own listings from one to the other. PropertyGuru raised three causes of action – copyright infringement, inducement of breach of contract, and breach of an earlier settlement agreement entered into by the parties in 2015 – against 99.co.
In what 99.co noted was a “victory for the Internet” in a blog article discussing the case the Singapore High Court dismissed PropertyGuru’s claims for copyright infringement and inducement of breach of contract entirely, and found that that 99.co was not at all liable for the alleged copying done via the Xpressor Application, under any of the three causes of action. In particular, the Court held that 99.co was not liable for the 71 listings identified by PropertyGuru found on the 99.co website in January and February 2016.
The only part of PropertyGuru’s claims that was allowed was regarding the breach of the settlement agreement by way of 99.co’s use of the manual PA service. In this regard, the Court found that 99.co was liable for reproducing one listing with the nine photographs via the manual PA service.
The High Court Judge hearing the matter, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, threw out PropertyGuru’s argument that they owned the photographs stamped with their watermark after affixing their watermark onto those photographs initially uploaded by property agents. Justice Hoo pointedly held that “the copying, enlargement or resizing of an artistic work, such as a drawing, painting or photograph, does not make the resulting image a copyrighted work“, and found that the watermarked photographs “are not original works which attract copyright protection“.
In coming to her decision, Justice Hoo relied on several cases referred to by counsel for 99.co, including the high profile UK Privy Council case involving Lego bricks in Interlego AG v Tyco Industries Inc  AC 217 and a leading decision in Singapore on copyright involving the alteration of existing maps (Virtual Map (Singapore) Pte Ltd v Suncool International Pte Ltd  2 SLR(R) 157).
99.co‘s Chief Executive Officer, Darius Cheung, had this to say: “[we] hope that by taking on this battle, we had contributed a little in our way to provide clarity and precedence, so others may not have to suffer the same fate. A big shout out to our magnificent counsel, Chia Ling and Gerald at OC Queen Street – who were not only brilliant lawyers, but people with heart and soul and wisdom.”