Copyright is a right given by the law to creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and producers of cinematograph films and sound recordings. In fact, it is a bundle of rights including, inter alia, rights of reproduction, communication to the public, adaptation and translation of the work. The Copyright Act, 1957 protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and cinematograph films and sound recordings from unauthorized uses. Unlike the case with patents, copyright protects the expressions and not the ideas. There is no copyright protection for ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such (Please see Article 9.2. of TRIPS).


The idea-expression dichotomy was formulated to ensure that the manifestation of an idea (i.e. an expression) is protected rather than the idea itself. The doctrine has been widely used in the United States and is not really alien to Indian jurisprudence. Courts have repeatedly opined that ideas per se are not copyrightable; only the expression of an idea is copyrightable. An idea is the formulation of thought on a particular subject whereas an expression constitutes the implementation of the said idea. While many persons may individually arrive at the same idea, they can claim copyright only in the form of an expression to this idea. Such expression must be a specific, particular arrangement of words, designs or other forms. Thus, such a doctrine allows for several expressions to be available for the same idea.

However, the Act remains silent on the idea-expression dichotomy. R.G.Anand v. Deluxe Films is the only Supreme Court decision that seems to have given some credence to idea expression dichotomy. That case dealt with the alleged infringement of the script of a play, arising from the adaption of the same into a cinematograph film. The main theme of the play was provincialism, where the plot involved persons belonging to different provinces (Punjab and Tamil Nadu). The film retained the same theme, simply reversing the gender of the person originating of the above provinces. The Court first compared the play and the movie from a broad perspective and opined that the film’s theme was broader in scope, covering both provincialism and dowry. The Court held that copyright cannot be acquired over an idea (the idea being provincialism in this case), and factually held that the dissimilarities between the two works was substantial enough for one to conclude that there was no colourable imitation of his play’s script. Being a Supreme Court decision, the principles established in this case form part of the law of the land and holds good even today.


Acquisition of copyright is automatic and it does not require any formality. Copyright comes into existence as soon as a work is created and no formality is required to be completed for acquiring copyright. However, certificate of registration of copyright and the entries made therein serve as prima facie evidence in a court of law with reference to dispute relating to ownership of copyright.


Both published and unpublished works can be registered. Copyright in works published before 21st January, 1958, i.e., before the Copyright Act, 1957 came in force, can also be registered, provided the works still enjoy copyright. Three copies of published work may be sent along with the application. If the work to be registered is unpublished, a copy of the manuscript has to be sent along with the application for affixing the stamp of the Copyright Office in proof of the work having been registered. When a work has been registered as unpublished and subsequently it is published, the applicant may apply for changes in particulars entered in the Register of Copyright with prescribed fee.


Computer Software or programme can be registered as a ‘literary work’. Section 2 (o) of the Copyright Act, 1957 defining “literary work” includes computer programmes, tables and compilations, including computer databases. ‘Source Code’ has also to be supplied along with the application for registration of copyright for software products.


Section 22 of the Copyright Act, 1957 iterates that the term of copyright in published literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works subsists for the entire life of the author and a further sixty years after his death. Thereafter, it becomes a document of the public domain. Section 23 of the Act states that the term of copyright with regard to anonymous and pseudonymous works is protected for sixty years from the date of publication. However, where the identity of the author is disclosed before the expiry of the said period, copyright shall subsist for another sixty years from the death of the author. Similar provisions apply for copyright of posthumous work. Section 26, 27 and 28 of the Copyright Act, 1957 states that the term of copyright in cinematograph films, sound recording and Government works shall subsist until sixty years from their date of publication.

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