THE DENSE PERPLEXITY OF THE IDEA-EXPRESSION DICHOTOMY
Author: Yamini Gurjar, B.B.A., LL.B.(Hons.) from Alliance University
The thought of having to draw a line of distinction between two intangible subject-matters is always confounding. Idea-Expression Dichotomy is one such concept on which the entire regime of Intellectual Property Law is based upon. The fundamental theory behind the Idea-Expression dichotomy is that the courts have to distinguish the ideas and the expression of such idea, to determine initially what can be the ideal in a given work and what is the expression of that idea in which the originality exists.[i]
The Merger Doctrine and Scenes A Faire
The idea and expression are interconnected. The doctrine of merger says that where the expression is the idea, and the idea is the expression and there is only one way to convey the fundamental idea, the idea will combine with the expression to make it inseparable. As a result, the expression becomes non-copyrightable.
One can also suggest cases where the expression of an idea cannot be rendered without the use of a particular component. The Courts deem these basic elements to be non-copyrightable, as the protection of such elements would contribute to the protection of the idea. These basic elements are referred to as Scenes A Faire. Similarly, scenes à faire, sequences of incidents that are necessarily the product of the choice of setting or circumstance, do not enjoy copyright protection."[ii]
Case analysis of Anil Gupta And Anr. vs. KunalDasgupta[iii]
This is one of the most important cases in India that explains All the above-mentioned concepts. This case also shows the extent of IP protection available to reality shows in India.
In this case, the plaintiff conceived an idea of producing a reality television programme containing the process of matchmaking to the point of actual spouse selection in which real everyday ordinary people would participate before a Television audience and called the concept as ‘Swayamvar'. The Plaintiff got the work registered as a piece of literary work and a certificate was duly issued in favour of the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff spoke to Defendant No. 1 and gave a 1-page concept note of ‘Swayamvar’. Further, the Plaintiff contended that the concept was a disclosure under confidentiality. In the second meeting, the plaintiff described the concept of Swayamvar and the Plaintiff informed the Defendant that concept was registered and copyrighted. In the third meeting, the Plaintiff handed over a letter which contained a proposal for ‘Swayamvar’. This letter also accompanied a brief concept note containing the essential details and proposed format of ‘Swayamvar’. Another meeting was held between the Defendants and the wife and son of the Plaintiff, after which a printed version of the presentation and an internal discussion document prepared by the Plaintiff’s said representatives, was also handed to the Defendants after the presentation.
Later, the Plaintiff saw an article titled ‘Camera, Lights, Shehnai! SONY TV to play Matchmaker’. The report indicated that it would be similar to a Swayamvar or a marriage bureau on TV.
When he learned that Defendant No. 2 was going to launch a reality TV show ‘ShubhVivah’, he wrote a letter to the Defendant to clarify any misconception of the source of the idea and then a legal notice was sent. The Defendant replied to said legal notice stating that what they were making was not a copy of Swayamvar and also took the stand that they had made the Plaintiff aware in their meetings that the Defendants were in the process of producing a programme based on the same theme.
The Plaintiff contended that copyright was held by him. The Plaintiff sought copyright protection in the developed production of his concept and the format of his unique matchmaking show, which was then brought to the attention of the Defendants through various meetings held between them.
The Plaintiff contended that Copyright Infringement was about to happen
The issues raised in the case were: firstly, whether there was a Breach of Confidence? And secondly on the permissibility of registration of ideas developed in a concept?
The Court held that the Defendants were under no obligation to maintain confidentiality. The argument by Defendants that once the concept was registered under the Copyright Act the same came under public domain, was not legally correct. When a concept is registered, the same is protected from the public domain. The Courts satisfied that the Plaintiff had prima facie proved that the Defendants were aware of the concept of Swayamvar and hence had infringed his copyright, granted the injunction.
The rationale was that when an idea is developed into a concept with adequate details, it can be registered under the copyright act. It was held that the idea per se had no copyright, but if the same was developed into a concept with adequate details, the same could be registered under the Copyright Act, 1957. Further, the confidential information provided by the Plaintiff was used with certain modifications which amount to a violation of copyright under Section 51 and 55 of the Act.
In conclusion, it cannot be argued that concept notes sent by individuals need to be guarded to enable common people to share their thoughts and see their outcomes in television shows. However, the mere common idea that is in the public domain cannot be covered by copyright protection. If such ideas are provided with such protection they would lock those ideas and leave no room for innovation.[iv]