COPYRIGHT MADE EASY
CME [Student Series]
LW 1-17 “IDEA – EXPRESSION DICHOTOMY”
The Copyright law has codified the longstanding judicially evolved principle that copyright protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. Therefore, a mere idea will not get any protection under the Copyright Act. Interestingly law protects only the form of expression contained in the copyrighted work and allows author’s idea to flow freely.
The idea – expression issue often arises in the law suit for Copyright infringement and many instances have come across wherein the author reveals to the producer or investor in their normal narration sessions but later for some or other reason the author finds out that his plot or story ( the literary work) has been lifted. This is the tricky situation where legal due diligence is required before rushing to the court.
Definitely, protection is provided over the “form” in which the idea is expressed and for that also it requires adequate evidences but the “substance” of the idea is outside the scope of author’s monopoly. Which means once the author reveals his work to the public in whatever manner , he injects the idea into public domain and it becomes a part of the common reservoir of knowledge, irrespective the original owner has done huge investments in marketing, production or advertisement to make it popular.
Certainly , you will thinking then what protection does the authors have but the fact is that this fundamental principle cuts across the entire spectrum of copyrightable subject matter which is consistent to the chief aim of the Copyright law. Please note that the paramount object of the Copyright legislation is to have free dissemination of information to the public. The reasoning is very much justified and it’s all well settled principle across the globe because to create new works , future authors must have access to a well endowed contents which should be freely available for those wishing to embellish them with their OWN expressions. Due to this reason , in the originality theory of idea-expression ,the meaning is undefined in the Copyright Act in every country. However , its application to be determined by the tests developed in case laws over a period of time. In short, in infringement suits , the plaintiff must establish that the alleged infringer has not taken just the abstract idea but copied the expression of that idea and the Courts primarily considers this aspect only.
In India , even today, the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in R.G. Anand v. Deluxe Films & Others is examined in depth on the idea- expression dichotomy. It’s important to have a close look into the provisions of Section 13(3) of Copyright Act 1957 which have been enumerated herein below :
13(3) – Copyright shall not subsist
- in any Cinematograph film if a substantial part of the film is an infringement of the Copyright in any other work ;
(b) in any [ sound recording ] made in respect of a literary,dramatic or musical work , if the making the [ sound recording ] , copyright in such work has been infringed.
As per section 13(3) as mentioned above, to prove infringement in Cinematographic work the Copyright owner must prove substantial similarity between his work and of the defendant’s. Interestingly , the degree of infringement in sound recording work, the word “substantial” is not used. Also , the Definition clause under the Copyright Act 1957 does not define infringement per-se but the Definition of an infringing copy in section 2(m) provides standards and criteria for determining when an infringement has occurred.
In the next article LW – 18 , we will be covering the landmark Supreme Court judgement of 1978 to summarise the ratio-decidendi in the matter of R G Anand v. Deluxe films & Others where the issue in question related to infringement of Copyright by Mr. Mohan Saigal , Film Director and proprietor of Deluxe films. In this matter, Honourable Supreme Court established the principles on infringement cases and submitted that the Courts below could not understand the fundamentals enunciated and the legal inferences / intentions of the Copyright legislation.