Protection of Ideas under Copyright Laws

Money never starts an idea; it is the idea that starts the money.

W.J. Cameron

Logically the way a human brain works, ideas come first, and their expressions come later, and people can think of unique ideas which are so creative and new, that not anyone can think of them. Some ideas could even be revolutionary or lead to millions of people making money from their expression, and considering these factors one does question whether the owner of the idea should be able to be protected by the law and be able to monetize too on it or would it just limit other people’s freedom of expression of those ideas, holding back creativity and further development.

Copyright protects creative works like artistic and literary works, as mentioned under Section 13 of the Indian Copyright Act, and not innovative ideas or innovations, while even patents protect unique and novel inventions, which suggest that even though an idea is very essential since it might be the starting point to a creation or an invention, it cannot be monetized under the intellectual property law. The S. 102(b) of the 1976 Copyright Act and Article 2 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) (1996), clearly mentions that the protection under copyright is provided only for the form of expression of the work and not the ideas that lie behind its creation.

In the case of University of London Press v University Tutorial Press[1], it was said that copyright is not concerned with the originality of ideas, and they can be copied, but the expression of thought and the way in which the ideas are conveyed cannot be copied. The principle held behind this was, that what is worth copying is worth protecting.

In a more recent case, i.e., in Eastern Book Company v. DB Modak (2008)[2] it was mentioned that an invention, novelty, or an innovative idea does not fall under the requirement for copyright protection, although it does require a little amount of creativity. An idea becomes the subject matter of copyright only when expressed or represented in a material form, also known as fixation.

Differentiating between what amounts to an idea and what amounts to an expression can get tough in certain situations. In the case of RG Anand v Delux Films[3], a play and a movie both involve the same theme of ‘provincialism’, which the courts held as being an idea and so, not protected by copyright law. It was further held that ideas, subject matter, plots, themes, or legendary/historical facts can’t be copyrighted, and to constitute a copyright violation, the viewer, reader, or spectator on watching both works, must get an unmistakable impression that the later work is a copy of the original. Even though the ideas behind the stories of both the play and the movie might be the same, but the difference in both the manners of expression was vast.

It has been explained in the case of Nicholas v Universal Pictures Corp.[4] that copyright does not extend to ‘scènes à faire’, which means situations, where, the only way to express an idea is by using certain elements. Since such themes and plots form out of very commonly used/expressed ideas or are customary to a particular genre, they cannot be copyrighted. Like those when there are limited ways of expressing an idea, the expression and the idea are merged and both are rendered uncopyrightable, which is known as the doctrine of mergers which was also used in the case of Mattel inc. & Ors. v. Jayant Agarwalla[5].

Considering the current status of copyrightability of ideas, it seems a bit farfetched for now. The Bombay High Court had reiterated that an idea cannot be copyrighted, even in the 2014 case of Mansoob Haider v. Yashraj Films[6], where the plaintiff had contended that the story of the 2013 movie “Dhoom 3” had been copied from another film script called “ONCE” which he had authored. It held that the two film scripts were completely different, and it reinstated the principle of ‘scènes à faire’ as well as the principle that had been set out in the case of RG Anand. For protecting ideas under copyright laws, we need further advancements in such laws since copyrighting ideas could be really complex too.

By- Tanay Hari Har Lal

[1] University of London Press v University Tutorial Press, (1916) 2 Ch. 601.

[2] Eastern Book Company v. DB Modak, (2008) 1 SCC 1

[3] RG Anand v Delux Films AIR 1978 SC 1613.

[4] Nicholas v Universal Pictures Corp. 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930).

[5] Mattel inc. & ors. V. Jayant Agarwalla, IA No. 2352/2008 in CS (O S) 344/2008, Del HC

[6] Mansoob Haider v. Yashraj Films Pvt. Ltd., 2014 (59) PTC 292 (Bom).

Aishwarya Says:

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