Copyright is a form of legal protection given over an original work created by an intellect of a person known as Author. Copyright is defined as an exclusive right over the original work or any substantial part of a work These rights include the right of adaptation, right of reproduction, right of publication, right to make translations, communication to public etc., as per Section 14 of the Copyright Act 1957. The term ‘work’ includes Literary works, Musical works, Dramatic works, cinematographs film, Sound recordings under Section 2(y) of Act. Further coming on the subject matter over which copyright subsist are Literary works, including computer programs, tables and compilations including computer databases which may be expressed in words, codes, schemes or in any other form, including a machine-readable medium, Musical works, Dramatic works, Choreographic works, Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, Motion pictures and other audiovisual works, Sound recordings and Architectural work.
Furthermore, the key component for determination of Copyright subsistence is the expression of work created by the author. The word expression in simple language is clothing of an idea. Copyright is provided over a novel form and not on a mere idea. By not copyrighting an idea, the law allows free flow of idea thereby letting others to come up with new expressions bringing about creativity and innovation preventing stagnation. The structured intention behind permitting copying of idea is to encourage individuals or entities to practice freedom to express in their own unique way, benefitting the society at large.
Now the key question lies in determining the line differentiating idea from expression. It is pertinent for an idea to effectively communicate itself. The landmark judgment R.G Anand vs M/S. Delux Films & (Ors, 1978 AIR 1613) in which the Supreme Court laid the foundation of what practically constitutes as a copyright infringement in India. The Apex Court observed the American and England precedents as well in establishing the applicability of copyright protection as firstly, idea, subject matter, themes, plots or historic or legendary facts cannot be protected in itself unless enclosed in a particular form, manner, arrangement and expression of the final work. Secondly, the substantial part of the work has been developed differently. Thirdly, the most reliable test is by a spectator or a reader whose opinion is of unmistakable impression whether if the subsequent part is as original work or an imitation. Fourthly, the subject can be the same but it has to be characterized differently so that it constitutes new original work. Lastly, on comparison and close analysis, the dissimilarities are apparent of the intention of creating an original work is prime facie evident, hence the result of the dissimilarities drawn on close evaluation of the work would clearly go to show that they tar outweigh the effect of the similarities.
In Mohini Mohan Singh And Ors. vs Sita Nath Basak (AIR 1931 Cal 233), Calcutta High Court held that “The question whether a particular work is an imitation or a colourable imitation of another, must necessarily be a question of fact, ….”. In Macmillan And Company Ltd. vs K. And J. Cooper ((1924) 26 BOMLR 292), the Lordships of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council laid down that, “the question is whether there has been expended upon the work charged with infringement, sufficient knowledge, labour or judgment, to give it a quality or character which the work infringed did not possess, and which differentiates it there from.”. The investment of labour, effort, skill, time and money etc., is what gives character and form to work created owning to the originality of the same.
The Author must widen the scope of the ideas and dress the same in a unique style so that the distinctiveness is prime facie evident thereby resulting in an original work. The judgement R.G Anand vs M/S. Delux Films & Ors was based on N.T. Raghunathan & Anr. v. All India Reporter Ltd where in the Bombay High Court held that only particular expression of an idea can be protected, not the idea itself. The defendant not only copied the idea and form but the abridgment as well.
In C. Cunniah And Co. By Partners M. ... vs Balraj And Co. By Partners S. (AIR 1961 Mad 111) the degree of resemblance was judged by the test of vision wherein similarities and dissimilarities were analyzed. However, it was agreed upon by the Court that the test of vision for the degree of resemblance cannot be the sole deciding factor. The Bombay High Court in Mansoob Haider vs. Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd. & Others (2014 (59) PTC 292) reaffirmed the principle held in R.G. Anand v. Delux Films as well as added that scène à faire are not Copyright protected. The Hon’ble court acknowledged a common source of inspirations as well as coincidental similarities. What law intends to protect is originality. It was further observed that “It may be originality in the expression of one particular idea or in the juxtaposition of a series of ideas, but these must be shown to be not only original but also to have been copied in order for an action to succeed. Where, on the other hand, it is demonstrable that the two works are materially different in what they intend to portray and the manner in which they do it, the coincidence of certain elements, especially if they be of the scène à faire variety, will not constitute copyright infringement.”.
Even after decades passing by the principles laid down in R.G Anand vs M/S. Delux Films & Ors, the landmark judgement, are applicable even after reenactment of the Copyright Act. Irrespective to the development and growth in the field of copyright law, the analysis of the case made by the Apex court back in 1978 remains unchanged. The idea expression dichotomy in India is well answered by the landmark judgement in every aspect.