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September 14, 2021

Article: Whether Compilation Of Judgments Is Capable Of Copyright Protection?

Author: Shreya Kunwar


Section 2(o) [1] of the Copyright Act, 1957 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”) states“ ‘literary work’ includes computer programs, tables and compilation including computer databases.” Section 52 of the Act, enumerates the acts which do not amount to infringement of copyright. Section 52(1)(q) lists the categories, the reproduction or publication of which would not amount to infringement of copyright. In this regard, Section 52(1)(q) (iv) of the Act expressly provides exemption to “any judgment or order of a court, Tribunal or other judicial authority, unless the reproduction or publication of such judgment or order is prohibited by the court, the Tribunal or other judicial authority, as the case may be” Whether compilation of judgments can be treated as original literary work for copyright to subsist in them?

Emphasis on Originality

This statutory interpretational issue is in contention as the market for ready reference to court orders and judgments expand. As judgments and court orders are exempted from copyright protection and are in the public domain, the instances of compiling them and passing them off as original works are commonplace. While compilations are literary works as provided in the statute, the question arises, ‘whether all compilations can be presumed to be original?’ The aim of this article is to analyze whether they fall within the umbrella of copyrightable works in India. 

As per the Practice And Procedure Manual 2018, [2] in order to qualify for copyright protection a compilation must “exhibit some creativity or originality in the selection or arrangement of the contents of the work. If the labour and skill required to make the selection and to compile the tables which form its items is negligible then no copyright can subsist in it.” The notion of originality of content of the work cannot realistically be present in any kind of compilation. Nevertheless, compilations as such come within the ambit of copyright protection for literary works, since they are referred to as collections in the Berne Convention, but in reality, they do not possess originality in the same sense as genuine literary works. Originality in their case is tested on the grounds of the selection and arrangement of the material used to compile the final work. The author of a compilation does not really create anything new, but merely selects and arranges prior work. In such cases, copyright protection is only provided for the new original literary work of authorship and not to the work as a whole”. Further, as the term ‘compilation’ is not defined in the statute itself, there is a need to go beyond the statute and understand the interpretations attributed to it through judicial pronouncements.

Relevance of Time, Labour and Skill

The courts have looked into certain factors while assessing whether or not copyright subsists in compilation of judgments. In Gurukrupa Mech Tech Pvt Ltd v. State of Gujarat and Ors [3] [(2018) 4 GLR 3324] a Single Judge Bench (J.B. Pardiwala, J.) of the High Court of Gujarat in its order of August 2018, while discussing the landmark Supreme Court decision in Eastern Book Company & Ors. v. D.B. Modak, reiterated, “Where a compilation is produced from the original work, the compilation is more than simply a re-arranged copyright of original, which is often referred to as skill, judgment and or labour or capital. The copyright has nothing to do with originality or literary merit. Copyrighted material is that what is created by the author by his skill, labour and investment of capital, maybe it is derivative work. The courts have only to evaluate whether derivative work is not the end-product of skill, labour and capital which is trivial or negligible but substantial. The courts need not go into evaluation of literary merit of derivative work or creativity aspect of the same.” Further, this Court held, “it is apparent that copyright subsists in those works which can be deemed as original work, predominantly originating from the author.” Recently in February 2021, in the case of A. Sirkar & Co. (Jewellers) Pvt. Ltd. v. B. Sirkar Jahuree Pvt. Ltd.,[4] [2021 (86) PTC 19] a Single Judge Bench (Srikumar Goswami, J.) of the Commercial Court at Alipore while discussing the Delhi High Court’s decision in Burlington Home Shopping v. Rahnish Chibber stated, “…it has been held by the Hon’ble Court that a compilation may be considered a copyright work by virtue of the fact that there was devotion of time, labour and skill in creating the said compilation from many available works”. The courts have through its decisions recognized the presence of time, labor and skill to be of paramount importance while determining whether or not copyright subsists in compilation of  judgments.


Compilation in the simplest of words would mean to collate information. In my opinion, the importance given to time, labor and skill by the courts to ascertain the existence of copyright is correct and sound. A compilation devoid of one or more of these essential elements would not be suitable for copyright protection.


[1]  https://copyright.gov.in/Copyright_Act_1957/index.html

 [2] https://copyright.gov.in/Documents/Public_Notice_inviting_reviews_and_comments_of_stakeholders_on_draft_guidelines/Literary_Work.pdf

[3] Gurukrupa Mech Tech Pvt Ltd v. State of Gujarat and Ors  [(2018) 4 GLR 3324]

[4]. A. Sirkar & Co. (Jewellers) Pvt. Ltd. v. B. Sirkar Jahuree Pvt. Ltd., [2021 (86) PTC 19]

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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