By, Jaskaran Singh Saluja


I. Introduction

In the legal regime of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) laws, Eastern Book Company & Ors. v. D.B. Modak & Anr.[i] is a landmark case. If edited judgements are to be considered as derivative work and the Copyright Act of 1957 covers such work, then what will be regarded as originality in such kind of derivative work to get copyright protection and further and what type of requirement need to be there for its fulfilment? This article aims to shed a light on this question and also whether only particular inputs, which were made in the Judgements passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court, will be entitled to copyright protection, or will the whole copy-edited version of the judgement be allowed for copyright?

II. Background and issues involved

Facts: – In the present case, the Appellants, i.e., Eastern Book Company (EBC) and Eastern Publishers Ltd., were involved in printing and publishing law report containing Supreme Court Cases and its Judgements generally known as “Supreme Court Cases” (hereinafter “SCC”). The register of the Supreme Court procures the cases. The Appellants made various changes in the original judgements. Moreover, they create its copy-edited version by applying multiple inputs such as font and paragraphing to make it user friendly, and adding many vital things that make it more apparent. Headnotes and footnotes were also added by Surendra Malik (one of the Appellants), to these judgements.

Respondent 1, i.e., Spectrum Business Support Ltd., had rolled out a software named “Grand Jurix,” that published legal reports on CD-ROMs. Respondent 2, Regent Data Tech Pvt. Ltd. had evoked another software package called “The Laws,” which also published law reports containing SC Cases, on CD-ROMs. The Respondents had allegedly copied the whole module from SCC to the CD ROM and all modules in the software packages had been similar to the Appellants’ work. The respondents had also allegedly replicated the Appellants’ way of publishing the legal reports by using the same arrangements, sequencing, and selection of cases. Further, they also allegedly coupled the entire text of the copied edited judgement as published in the Appellants’ law report, along with the formatting, copy editing, paragraph numbers, footnote numbers, cross-referencing, etc.

EBC moved to the Delhi High Court claiming for an interim injunction as the Respondents had copied the copy-edited version of the Judgements of Supreme Court Cases, prepared by the EBC. Both the Single Bench Judge and Division Bench Judges did not grant the injunction by stating that making some changes in the original judgement doesn’t change the character of the Judgement, and therefore, it won’t be considered as an original work. Hence, the edited Judgement was not copyright, and there is no infringement. The respondents further submitted that the Appellants had copyright only over the headnotes and footnotes, and they agree not to copy the same. Thus, the Court did not accept the case and hence for the present decree lie.

Laws Dealt With:Section 13, 14 and 52(1)(iv)(q) of Copyright Act, 1957.[ii]


  • What shall be the originality in a derivative work to get copyright protection, and what requirement needs to be there for its fulfilment?
  • Whether only the particular inputs made in the Judgements, passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court, will be entitled to copyright protection, or will the whole copy-edited version of the Judgement be allowed for copyright?

 III.  Discursive Arguments

According to the Appellants, they do not claim any monopoly in publishing legal reports comprised of decisions taken by the Supreme Court, as such legal reports are being published by different publishers as well, even without replicating from other publications. The Appellants are only contending that they had copyright in their copy-edited version of the content of decisions as delivered in the SCC, which are rendered as a result of their abilities, skills, capital, and labour. Moreover, there is the presence of the Appellant’s augmentations and contributions in forming their version of the text and content of decisions as provided in SCC.

However, the Respondents, being at variance with the Appellants’ contentions, refuted the claims by asserting the fact that the decisions provided in the SCC are merely a derivative work which is produced based on the judgements of the Court. Consequently, it lacks originality as it does not portray any independent creation. Further, the inputs which were added by the Appellants are nothing, but the explanation of an idea that can be conveyed in a limited way, and that such inputs cannot be protected under the Copyright Act. Moreover, for proclaiming protection of any derivative work under the Copyright Act, the most essential pre-condition is the originality of work. Such originality means that the work was created or produced by the author or producer on their own, as contrary to copied from other works, and it should possess some degree of creativity.

IV. Decision and rationale

Decision:After listening to the explanations provided by the High Court, the appeals were partly allowed by the Apex Court. The Apex Court gave the decision in favour of Appellants. The Court held that every author should show that the particular derivative work should be more than just a mere copy of the original work. Moreover, it should have independent labour, skill, and capital of the author for getting copyright protection of such derivative work under the Copyright Act, 1957. Further, it was also stated by the Court that the literary part of the work has nothing to do with the copyright as the part which is evaluated is the skills employed which should be substantial and not trivial. The Apex Court also directed that even for internal references, the respondents were not allowed to use the paragraphs made by the Appellants in their copy-edited version. Respondents were also not allowed to use the editor’s judgement, prepared by Appellants, related to the opinions expressed by the judges through phrases like “partly dissenting,” “concurring,” “discursive,” etc. based on reported judgements in SCC.[iii]

Rationale: – The justification behind such Holding of the Apex Court is that: – firstly, the derivative work is the original work of Appellants, and they have spent independent skill, labour, and capital in preparing it, and therefore it cannot be considered as a mere copy of the original Judgement. Secondly, judges had analysed that the changes made by the Appellants were substantial. Thirdly, judges had applied the principle of “Sweat of the brow,”[iv] which means that the author deserves a reward for utilizing his/her skill. Fourthly, the Court further referred the principle of a minimal degree of creativity, i.e., there should be a minimum degree of creativity in derivative work to show that the copy-edited version of the Judgement is not an original work.

V. Conclusion

The jurisdiction of Copyright protection under the Copyright Act, 1957, finds itself in fair play. At the point when an individual produces something with his ability and work, it provides possession to him, for his/her production and the other individual would not be allowed to make a benefit out of the expertise and work of the primary creator, who had initially produced. It is for this reason that the Copyright Act of 1957, gives the authors absolute privilege of the floor in terms of exclusive rights for their originally produced work, also considered as non-tangible prerogatives in various legislation. This Act puts a check on the exploitation of the original owner against the use of his work without his consent. Lastly, the Court did not allow the Respondents to sell their CD ROMS with the text of judgements of the Supreme Court Cases along with their own headnotes, footnotes, and other inputs. The Judgement of the High Court was modified to the extent that in addition to the interim relief, the above-mentioned additional relief to the appellants was also granted by the Apex Court.

[i] Eastern Book Company & Ors. v. D.B. Modak & Anr., AIR 2008 SC 809.

[ii] The Copyright Act, 1957, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1957 (India), § 13, 14 and 52(1)(iv)(q).

[iii] Copyright Case Brief, Notes For Free, at

[iv] Supra I.

Image source: Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash