Case Update: PropertyGuru Pte Ltd v 99 Pte Ltd [2018] SGHC 52 – Singapore High Court dismisses claim for copyright infringement by cross-posting listing app (inter alia)


Singapore High Court (coram Justice Hoo Sheau Peng) held, inter alia, that PropertyGuru did not have copyright over photographs which property agent users uploaded onto their website for real estate listings and which they edited and imposed their watermark on. This was not a material alteration or embellishment to become original new work. Their website’s Terms of Use also merely asserted that they had copyright, but this did not take them far since at law, there was no copyright in the first place.

Facts of the Case

In this case, a well-established Singapore property / real estate listings website PropertyGuru sued a relatively younger startup competitor for breach of a settlement agreement, tort of inducement of breach of contract (by PropertyGuru’s users), and copyright infringement. Much of the case centred on Xpressor app, an app which allowed cross-posting or cross-listing on multiple property listings platforms. It was found that had co-developed the app: at [18]. The Xpressor app allows users to log in to their PropertyGuru account and choose the listings therein to cross-post onto’s website: at [19].

When first started, it employed a software to “scrape” listings on PropertyGuru’s website and post them on’s website. Sometime around 2015, the two competitors entered into a Settlement Agreement. This prohibited from, inter alia, reproducing content from PropertyGuru’s website onto their own. Sometime around August 2016, offered its users a Premium Account service where it employed independent contractors to manually copy information in property agent’s listings on PropertyGuru and list it on at [22].

Breach of Settlement Agreement

On PropertyGuru’s breach of settlement agreement claim, the Court found that there was insufficient evidence for this claim regarding some January and February 2016 reproductions on’s website (which had photographs bearing PropertyGuru’s watermark) because it was plausible that the property agents who made these listings had used other means to reproduce them. Based on the evidence, it was likely that these reproductions were not done through the Xpressor app because by then, the app made sure to remove the watermark before cross-posting: at [54]-[55]. The Court also rejected the argument that had reproduced the listings simply by developing, marketing, and hosting on its server, the Xpressor app; it remained the individual property agent’s decision whether or not to cross-post listings, not’s: at [57].

However, the Court did find that the reproduction of 9 photographs through the Premium Account service amounted to a breach of the settlement agreement and thus awarded damages to be assessed and an injunction restraining from continuing breaches: at [62]. It should be noted also that the Judge had to address an argument that the Premium Account service point was not expressly pleaded by PropertyGuru.

The Court also rejected arguments that had breached the Settlement Agreement by connecting to PropertyGuru’s website to cross-post listings. The Court found that it was the end users of the Xpressor app who connected to PrpoertyGuru’s website, not at [70]-[72]. The Judge also made some comments on the odd drafting of the relevant clauses in the Settlement Agreement: at [72].

Tort of Inducement of Breach of Contract

The Court rejected PropertyGuru’s claim on this head. The discussion however is interesting. Users of PropertyGuru’s website are deemed to have entered into a contract with PropertyGuru. The contract’s terms include the Terms of Use and Acceptable Use Policy. These terms prohibited users from reproducing material from PropertyGuru’s website and using any software to access PropertyGuru’s services or collect information through PropertyGuru. The Court observed that it could be possible that property agents who had used the Xpressor app to make cross-postings were in breach of the Terms of Use and Acceptable Use Policy: at [84].

However, because there was no evidence that the property agents did actually use the Xpressor app to make cross-postings, the claim on this head failed: at [85]-[87]. As regards the Premium Account service, the Court rejected the claim on this evidence because it was not expressly pleaded that this was a mode by which induced property agents to breach their contract with PropertyGuru: at [88]-[89]. Unlike the earlier head where the matter of Premium Account services could be seen as evidence, in this instance, PropertyGuru did not amend its Statement of Claim to expressly nail its case down.

Copyright Infringement

The Court also rejected this claim. The issue was whether PropertyGuru owned copyright in the photographs which it obtained from property agents and which it then edited by resizing them, altering their light balance, softening the edges, and adding a watermark: [96].

The Court reviewed three decisions—Interlego AG v Tyco Industries Inc [1989] AC 217 (“Interlego”); The Reject Shop Plc v Robert Manners [1995] FSR 870; Virtual Map (Singapore) Pte Ltd v Suncool International Pte Ltd [2005] 2 SLR(R) 157 (“Virtual Map”)—and 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. There must be a material alteration or embellishment to the original work to confer originality (and hence copyright protection) on the resulting work. What counts as “material” for this purpose is a question of fact and degree. There was some alteration in Interlego, namely the addition of new written information to the drawing, but this was insufficient to confer originality on what was otherwise a visually similar copy of an image. On the other hand, Virtual Map provided a clear example of a material alteration. While the alteration in that case was extremely substantial, it does not mean that alterations to an original work must necessarily be to a similar degree before the derivative work becomes original and copyrightable”: at [102].

The Court found that PropertyGuru’s editing of the photographs did not amount to an original work which gave rise to copyright: at [103]-[104]. There was no “skill and labour as conferred originality of an artistic character” (at [100], [103]).

As regards PropertyGuru’s Terms of Use, and in particular this sentence—“We shall have the right to watermark the photographs within the Content and the copyright in the final watermarked photographs shall belong solely to us”—the Court found that this was merely an assertion that PropertyGuru had copyright. But if at law, they did not have copyright, then the clause does nothing further: at [107].

Groundless Threats of Infringement Proceedings

Finally, the Court considered’s counterclaim for PropertyGuru’s groundless threats of infringement proceedings under section 200 of the Copyright Act. The Court rejected the counterclaim. First, it thought that PropertyGuru was justified in thinking that it had basis to sue at [116]. Second, did not adduce evidence of loss. It merely asserted that the threat of the lawsuit affected its ability to obtain funding and strained its relationship with its investors, but there was no evidence for this: at [117].

Comments on Wider Repercussions and Other Issues to Consider

Platforms’ Terms of Use

This case raises issues about platforms, websites, apps’ Terms of Use or Terms of Service. Many of us use these platforms and entered into legally binding contracts with them without realizing what we agreed to. When it comes down to it, a lot of it is an issue of construction of the terms.

In this case, the terms were deemed as merely an assertion of copyright. But the Court found there’s no copyright in the edited watermarked photographs.

Generally, however, terms of use may be drafted in a way to amount to an assignment or license of copyright or intellectual property (“IP”) when posting or listing on websites, apps and other platforms. If it’s an assignment, you effectively give ownership of your IP away. If it’s a non-exclusive licence, you retain ownership and the licensee does not have right to enforce the IP. If it’s an exclusive licence, you retain ownership but the licensee can enforce IP rights, and you technically cannot license your IP to other persons.

Copyright In Edited Images

As the Court held, there must be material alteration or embellishment to become original new work giving rise to copyright. Resizing, altering light balance, softening edges and adding watermarks to a photograph does not amount to material alteration or embellishment to make the work an original new work with copyright conferred on the editor.

This is important for web users (which is almost all of us), platforms, apps, websites, which edit images and content uploaded online. This may not be original new work. It may even amount to copyright infringement of the first work.

Cross-Posting Apps

Some of us use cross-posting applications, software, platforms. This case highlights that the mechanism of how content is cross-posted or cross-listed on multiple platforms can have legal repercussions.

If the app takes content from a first platform and post on other platforms, then there may be issues of whether the first platform has copyright over the content, and whether that copyright has been infringed.

If the app takes content direct from the app user and post on multiple platforms, then likely there is no copyright infringement issue since the app is dealing with the app user’s copyright.

Hyperlinking, Crawling, Framing, Inline Linking

There was no discussion on whether hyperlinking, crawling, framing, deep linking, inline linking, etc. would amount to IP infringement. In this case, the issue only arose as a matter of a breach of contract, and even so, there was no evidence for the claim.

Generally hyperlinking to the home page of a website is unlikely to raise issues. Deep linking – linking to a particular page within another website rather than the homepage – is uncertain but per se is unlikely to constitute IP infringement (based on decisions and authoritative opinions from other jurisdictions). Also, framing (creating frames on the web page which load another person’s website) and inline/embedding/img-src linking (i.e. in simple HTML code, <img src=”some third party image”>) is also uncertain.

In this case, PropertyGuru’s Terms of Use prohibits a user from hyperlinking to content on their website and from using software to crawl and obtain information from their website. Hence, this should give us pause as to whether some of our online actions may constitute breaches of contract.

Authorization Liability

Although this was not an issue in the case at all, platforms, websites, apps, should also be careful that their functionalities, including hyperlinking, crawling and re-posting, does not amount to IP infringement by way of authorizing another person to breach IP. For copyright, granting or purporting to grant a right to a third party to do a copyright infringing act would incur authorization liability. The law in Singapore on this, reflected in the Court of Appeal’s landmark decision in the RecordTV case, is calibrated narrowly. Various factors would be taken into account, including the relationship between the alleged authorizer and the direct infringer, whether the alleged authorizer had actual or constructive knowledge of the infringement, whether the alleged authorizer had the ability to prevent infringement.


All in all, while this decision does not lay down any new law, it is nonetheless interesting because of the application of law to relatively new and evolving technology and scenarios. It also raises important questions for all of us as to the rights and obligations we have when we use various platforms, websites or apps, or the rights and intellectual property we are assigning and thus giving away. It should be noted that either party may appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal, so we shall wait and see if there are any further developments on this.

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