Is an idea entitled to Copyrights?
Copyright is a legal right (provided by the law) which grants the creator of an original work the exclusive rights to determine the conditions under which his work shall be used by others. It protects and rewards creativity by ensuring certain minimum safeguards of the rights of creators over their creations. Copyright is usually provided for a limited time. The Copyright Act 1957 (amended by The Copyright Amendment Act, 2012) governs the subject of copyright law in India.
Section 13 of the Copyright Act provides the classes of works in which copyright subsists, i.e.
(a) Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works;
(b) Cinematograph films;
(c) Sound recordings
These rights are exclusive but not absolute and are limited by various limitations and exceptions. One such limitation is that Copyright protects the original expression of an idea and not the idea itself. Ideas are not protected by Patents either.
Ideas are without any doubt the first step towards any creation. If it wasn’t for an idea, nothing new would be created. Ideas are very critical and valuable part of a creation. But these mere ideas are not monetarily valuable. If creating was as easy as coming up with an idea, everyone would be a rich artist. The idea is the raw material for the production of a new creation. The idea behind two different creation could be the same.
Inventors often identify a problem, comes up with an idea to solve the problem and implement that idea to formulate a solution. The identification of the problem is not monetarily valuable, but the solution is (because people would like to use the solution to solve the problem). The same way, an artist comes up with an idea, works on that idea, and a new creation is introduced to the world. It’s this new creation that people would pay for in order to use it themselves. This doesn’t mean that the creators should give up at the idea stage itself, but it means that work should be done on that idea to make it concrete enough and a creation should be brought out of it.
If the idea is abstract and intangible, it cannot be protected by copyright. But if that idea is expressed in any tangible form (published or unpublished), it can be filed for copyright protection. Copyright provides protection to the works that are fixed in tangible form.
An Important landmark decision in the area of copyright law was that of R. G. Anand v. M/s Delux Films & Ors.
In 1954, the plaintiff R. G. Anand claimed that the movie New Delhi made by Mohan Sehgal was modelled on the plot of a play (Raja Hindustani) written and produced by him (Anand). The Supreme Court held that the movie cannot be an infringement to the script of the play, because even if the idea behind both the stories was the same, they were expressed in a way different from each other.
The Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff and stated that there cannot be a copyright of an idea, subject-matter, themes, plots or historical or legendary facts.
Relying on the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of R. G. Anand v. M/s Delux Films & Ors, in the recent case of Mansoob Haider v. Yashraj Films, the Bombay High court also stated that ideas are not copyrightable and similarities in ideas do not lead to copyright infringement.
Copyright Act in the United States-
Ideas are exempted from copyright protection not only in Indian law but also in the United States law. Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act, 1976 (United States copyright law) states that-
In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.
This section has made it clear that copyright does not provide protection to any idea, procedure, technique, system, mode of operation, concept, principle, or discovery irrespective of the form in which it is presented. The sole purpose of this section is to state the categories which are not entitled to copyright protection.
Copyright protects the original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works, cinematograph films and sound recordings of authors and creators from being copied by others (without due credits). It does not protect an idea itself, but the expression of that idea into a tangible form. Hence, a mere idea is not entitled to copyright.
- Copyright Act 1957 (Indian law)
- Copyright Act, 1976 (United States law)
- AIR 1978 SC 1613
- A handbook of Copyright Law (Dept. of Secondary Education and Higher education)