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Freeths wins copyright claim for software developer against former partner

National law firm Freeths has won a copyright infringement case for client THJ Systems, owned by Andy Mitchell, after court ruled ex-business partner Dan Sheridan wrongly used images of its software after their relationship fell apart.

The Court of Appeal (COA) held that US-based trading mentor Sheridan wrongly used screenshots of risk and price charts in presentations which had been generated by OptionNET Explorer — a computer program created by UK owner of THJ Systems Ltd. and OptionNet LLP, Mitchell.

Both Mitchell and Sheridan founded the business in 2010 to combine Mitchell’s software, OptionNET Explorer, with Sheridan’s options trading mentoring business, Sheridan Options Mentoring Corp. Mitchell expelled Sheridan from the business in 2016 when their relationship broke down however, Sheridan continued to advertise the software to teach trading classes.

In 2022, The High Court initially ruled there was justification for Sheridan being pushed out of OptionNET however, it declined to say he had infringed copyright and did not award an injunction. Sheridan also appealed the judge’s finding that copyright existed in the risk and price charts.

Handing down the judgement in under 14 days, Lord Justice Arnold of the COA overturned this judgment, stating: “The High Court judge was wrong to deal with the issue of infringement, and specifically communication to the public in the UK, in his judgment because no such issue was before him.”

He found that infringement had been admitted by Sheridan whilst also coming to the same conclusion as the High Court judge on the existence of copyright, albeit using an updated legal test.

Acting for Andy Mitchell, Martin Noble, Intellectual Property & Media Partner at Freeths, said: “A finding that copyright did not subsist in this case would have been disastrous for THJ, leaving Sheridan free to use the screenshots in the libraries he makes available to his subscribers.

“Equally, the lack of an injunction against further use by Sheridan would also have left THJ with fewer options to police Sheridan’s activities going forward. Freeths’ IP team was able to take over this case at short notice and put together an appeal strategy that was incredibly successful – testament to the hard work and dedication that goes into unpicking years of previous litigation.  

“Businesses in a similar situation also need to ensure all arguments are spelled out at trial. It is worth grounding the case regularly, if amendments need to be made, do it well before trial.”

Andy Mitchell believes the judgement is a victory for the industry, having sent a clear message to those who take shortcuts, by using screenshots and videos of someone else’s software in use, that they can be held to account.

He added: “I am delighted that the Court of Appeal has upheld the copyright declaration in my favour for the design of the user interface of my OptionNET Explorer software. I spent a lot of time devising something that looked very different to anything on the market at the time. It continues to be a market leading platform used for those wanting to improve their skills as an options trader.”

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