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Malaysia: A case on wrongful dismissal and copyright benefits

29th January, 2013

In the case of John Kenneth Carpenter v Naim Land Sdn. Bhd., the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak at Kuching, Malaysia dismissed John Kenneth Carpenter’s claim for wrongful dismissal and copyright benefits.

John Kenneth Carpenter, an Australian (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Plaintiff’) was an employee of Naim Land Sdn. Bhd. (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Defendant’), having started the work with the Defendant in 2007 and where his services were terminated in 2010. Upon his dismissal, the Plaintiff received cash compensation in lieu of his notice period, his annual leave of 18 days and the salary he was to receive till the end of his contract period. Further, the Plaintiff claimed to have authored a procedure manual for the Defendant called the Naim Standard Manual (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Manual’). The Plaintiff initiated the current suit in the High Court in 2012 on the grounds of ‘generated exemplary damages’ for wrongful dismissal and ‘copyright benefits’ in respect of the Manual.

The Defendant applied to strike out the Plaintiff’s claims on the ground that the Plaintiff’s claims ought to be filed in the Industrial Court. However, the High Court stated that as the Plaintiff had neither claimed for reinstatement nor for back wages or termination benefits, the Plaintiff’s claim for seeking damages for being unceremoniously booted out of the company had been rightly filed in civil court.

On the issue of copyright over the Manual, the Defendant contended that the Manual was not solely the effort of the Plaintiff; rather the Plaintiff had merely improved on the existing ones. The High Court acknowledged that the Manual was not build bottom up by the Plaintiff and that the Defendant had their own earlier versions before the Plaintiff joined the company. The High Court also noted that based on the curriculum vitae of the Plaintiff submitted to the Defendant while applying for the job, the Manual was part of the job description contemplated by the Plaintiff. As such, the High Court, under Section 26(2)(b) of the Malaysian Copyright Act 1987, adjudged that the copyright to the Manual had been transferred to the Defendant.

The High Court further stated that the Plaintiff had signed his acceptance of termination stating that the cash compensation received represented the full and final settlement of all dues, monetary or otherwise, howsoever arising from the Plaintiff’s employment with the Defendant and its cessation thereof.

Also, the High Court noted that the Plaintiff had filed the suit more than one year after being terminated. Hence, given the time lapse, the Plaintiff must be estopped by his own conduct from asserting the claim against the Defendant after having lulled them into a sense of complacency that the Plaintiff had accepted his termination with no strings attached.

On such grounds, the High Court struck out the Plaintiff’s claim as being unsustainable.

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