Eastern Book Company v/s Navin J. Desai 2001 (58) DRJ 103
This is a case where the question whether copyright can be granted on the judgment of a court was in question. This was for the first time that such a question came up before a court that an arrangement of the decision of the court shall be considered under the category of literary work or not.
- The plaintiffs, in this case, i.e. Eastern Book Company is a leading publication house that prints and publishes various books of law. They claim to have expertise in the legal publications and that they are recognized as a leading law publication around the globe.
- The plaintiffs were engaged in publishing various legal commentaries, journals and digests along with the publication of law reports under the name of Supreme Court Cases (SCC).
- They claim to have copyright over a large number of legal writings i.e. more than 500 in number that is distributed in more than 560 cities around the world including in India.
- One of the several works undertaken by the plaintiff is to make headnotes and indices of the case judgments and to publish them in an order and style entirely created by them.
- The third plaintiff was engaged in the publication of such work in the form of CD ROM where people can easily find judgments of courts presented to them in a very easy to read and understand type of format. Such services were provided by the plaintiff under the name of Online Supreme Court Case Finder.
- Such case finder created by the plaintiff was Microsoft Windows compatible and included around 84000 headnotes created and published by the plaintiff themselves.
- The plaintiffs have a suspicion that the defendant has copied all the material of plaintiff from their CD ROM and have used verbatim in their product named “the Laws” and “jurix”.
- Plaintiffs claim that they have applied a lot of skill and energy in writing headnotes and in arranging the judgments. They have pleaded that they are not seeking protection on the judgment of courts but on the work done by them using their skills.
- The writing of headnotes, the plaintiffs claim, needs an in-depth analysis of the judgment and requires a lot of skill and energy in being written. Also, that the original form of judgment is generally in a rough form and is not very properly arranged so as to be easily understood.
- But the plaintiffs have not only written headnotes including brief headnotes and descriptive headnotes but they have also made an effort in arranging and somewhere simplifying the judgments in their original work.
- They claim that the defendants have without applying any skill merely copied the work of the plaintiff verbatim and are trying to launch their CD ROM having such materials.
- The illustration of work copied by the defendants, as provided by the plaintiff, is that the defendant has not made even a little effort to correct the mistaken errors made by them in printing or for changing the font style or type of the text as well. They have just blatantly copied the work of plaintiff.
- They contended a monetary loss, loss of reputation, loss of prospective market and therefore a loss of business suffered by them due to the act of the defendant.
- Therefore the plaintiff contended to pass an injunction against the defendant to restrain them from launching their product in the market and have also asked for passing an interim injunction for restraining them from doing so during the pendency of the suit.
- The defendants contended that the material available on their platform was more in number than that was available on plaintiff’s platform and that they had not infringed any copyright of plaintiff as court’s writings and judgments cannot be subject to copyright by anyone.
- Also that the work of the defendant was unique in nature as it provided for certain features like hyperlinking that were not available in the plaintiff’s work altogether and pleaded that defendants work was itself eligible for copyright.
- They also pleaded that the plaintiff merely wanted to restrain any of their competitors from coming into market as the products of plaintiff were much expensive than the defendants and so they were afraid that their market would be spoilt by this act of defendant.
There were following basic issues raised before the court-
- Whether the plaintiff could claim copyright over the judgments of the courts merely on the basis of change done by them in writing or font style.
- Whether the act of the defendant was sufficient to infringe the copyright of the plaintiff.
- Whether the suit instituted by the plaintiff was merely an effort to restrain competition in the market.
Judgment and decision-
- The court while deciding on injunctions initially allowed the injunction orders retraining the defendants from launching their CD ROM in the market. Defendants thereafter appealed against the decision of single judge of court allowing injunction.
- The injunctions were thereafter dismissed by an order in appeal stating that the appellants can market their CD ROM provided that they write headnotes of their own and do not copy them from the respondents (plaintiffs).
- Further, on deciding on the issue whether Eastern Book Company or SCC can enjoy copyright over the headnotes and further arrangement of judgments, the court decided in negative.
- It was held that the judgments of the Supreme Court are in the public domain and can be used by anyone without any distinction. Simply correcting typographical errors, applying or removing the comma and full stop and renumbering the paragraphs do not make it the original work of the plaintiff.
- Further the court also observed that the plaintiff did not come with clean hands and had failed in revealing material facts which clearly shows their malafide intention of controlling competition in the market and therefore they cannot be given any remedy in this case.
- Regarding headnotes, the court stated that it shall be considered as a mere reproduction of parts of judgments and therefore are not original works.
- Therefore the plaintiff’s contentions were denied and the suits were dismissed.