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The concept of “originality” under the copyright law-study of judicial response

Although copyright has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations, the modern idea of copyright emerged in England in the 18th century. Copyright entered the international arena first


Although copyright has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations,[1] the modern idea of copyright emerged in England in the 18th century. Copyright entered the international arena first time with the Berne Convention (September 1886).[2] The convention was held to give protection to the original literary, dramatic, musical, and cinematography work. With no definition of ‘original’ in the convention, it was left to the member nations to decide what comes under the scope of original work. Copyright law is a collection of legal concepts that grants original work authors the exclusive right to control the use and distribution of their works.


The Collins Dictionary describes the original as something which has never occurred or existed before. The criteria for originality are meant to ensure that copyright law protects only innovative and distinctive works. It also aids in minimizing the use of copyright to suppress originality and creativity. Varying nations have different requirements for originality, but generally speaking, a work needs to be creative in some way to qualify the criteria. This indicates that a work cannot merely be a duplicate of another person’s work; it must have some original expression. In India, Copyright is protected under the Copyright Act, of 1957. Original works of literature, drama, music, as well as arts, are protected.[3]Registration of copyright is not required for acquiring copyright or enforcing copyright through breach suits.[4] But copyright registration is the prima facie proof that the work is original and thereby prevents the unauthorised use of the work.[5] In Sanjay Soya Private Limited v. Narayani Trading Company,[6] the Bombay High Court held that the registration of copyright is only on the discretion on the owner. Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957 says, that copyright infringement is not limited to the work that has been registered. Protection ought to be “automatic” as soon as the work is created. Copyright Law in the United States safeguards “original works of authorship fixed in any physical medium of expression.” To qualify work as original in the USA, the work must be self-created and have a touch of creativity also known as a modicum of creativity.[7]A work will not be considered original if these two requirements are not met, precluding copyright protection for it.

Furthermore, the copyright law demands that the work must be “fixed in a physical and tangible medium of expression.” This implies that the effort must be documented or written down in some manner. This restriction aids in preventing the use of copyright to defend concepts that are ineligible for copyright protection. As it is rightly said by the Supreme Court in R.G Anand v. Deluxe Films,[8]that there can be no copyright in mere ideas. The idea has to be manifested in some physical form.

The Copyright Law in India gives protection to only ‘original’ ‘literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical work.’[9] However, moviesand sound recordings need not be original in order to get protection under the Copyright Law. Though, copyright will not exist in a cinematograph film if a significant portion of the film violates the copyright of another work.[10] Movies dubbed in other languages comes under the ambit of copyright law and the producer has right to its sub-title and dubbed work.[11]


The importance of original work in the copyright is that the copyright owner gets exhaustive rights over his work refraining others from copying it. The artists and authors get a percentage of subsequent sales of their work is being. Without the original work, the person does not fit the criteria for getting his work copyrighted. In some cases, originality is not required. Only sweat and labor are crucial like in the cases of the telephone directory. In such cases, the court observes that effort has been put in and thereby grants the copyright to prevent others from making a pirated version of such work.


For a long time, India has followed the doctrine of ‘sweat of the brow’ while granting copyright to the owner.  In Eastern Book Company v. DB Modak,[12] the apex court abandoned the traditional doctrine and shifted to switched to the US-style “Modicum of Creativity” method.The court ruled that a derivative work must be more than a basic copy of an original work in order to qualify for a copyright. The author must have contributed independent skill, labor, and capital to the work, and that skill should not be trivial.


Finally, it should be noted that a crucial tenet of copyright law is the notion of “originality.” A work must be the outcome of an independent creative endeavour and must exhibit a minimum level of creativity in order to qualify for copyright protection. This idea has received a variety of judicial responses, with several courts implementing and interpreting the originality standards in their own unique ways. It is evident, however, that courts have frequently determined that the bar for originality is very low and that a wide variety of works can be regarded as unique and, therefore, protected by copyright.

Author(s) Name: Samridhi Dhir (Chaudhary Charan Singh)


[1]Playwrights, for example, were awarded exclusive rights to perform their plays in specific theatres in ancient Greece. The term “privilegium,” a type of copyright  was awarded to authors in ancient Rome, giving them the exclusive right to duplicate and sell their works.

[2]Dr. Ishita Chatterjee, Central Law Publications: Copyright Law

[3]Section 14 (1) (a) of Copyright Act, 1957

[4] Section 45 (1) of the Copyright Act, 1957

[5] Advantages of copyright registration in India <> accessed on 13 January 2023

[6]IA(L) 5011/2020 in COMIP(L) 2/2020

[7] Copyright Basis <,independent%20creation%20of%20its%20author.>accessed on 13 January 2023

[8]1978 AIR 1613, 1979 SCR (1) 218

[9] Section 13 (1) (a) of the Copyright Act, 1957

[10] Copyright of Cinematograph Film and Sound Recording <Copyright of Cinematograph Films and Sound Recording – Video, song, Film (>), accessed on 18 January 2023

[11]JA Entertainment Pvt Ltd. V. Ms Sithara Entertainment &Ors.

[12] (2008) 1 SCC 1