Doctrine of Merger and Copyright Law
The fundamental rule of Copyright law is that facts and ideas are not copyrightable, it is only the creative expression of such ideas and facts that is rewarded by law, by conferring a privilege to exclusively exploit such expression for a limited time. However, not all expression are accorded protection under the Copyright Law. The law affords protection to expressions that are fixed in a medium and are ―original. Section 13 of the Copyright Act provides that ―original, literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works are subject matter of copyright.
However, in situations where the idea and expression are inseparable or merged, doctrine of merger is applied by the Courts. This doctrine postulates that where the idea and expression are intrinsically connected, and that the expression is indistinguishable from the idea, copyright protection cannot be granted. Therefore, if the idea and expression are so well merged that the idea itself becomes copyrightable, it would hinder the growth of creativity which is against the very objective of copyright law.
The doctrine of merger provides that when the expression is the idea, and vice-versa, and there is only one way to express the underlying idea, the idea will merge with the expression as to make them indistinguishable. Consequently, the expression becomes non-copyrightable.
Caselaw with respect to Doctrine of merger:
In Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corporation v. Kalpakian, 446 F.2d 738(1971), the plaintiffs sued the defendants asking them to refrain from manufacturing bee shaped jewel pins. The Court held that the jewel shaped bee pin was an idea that anyone was free to copy, the expression of which could be possible only in a few ways; therefore, no copyright could subsist in it.
Affiliated Hospital Products, Inc. v. Merdel Game Mfg. Co., 513 F.2d 1183, 1188-89 (2nd Cir. 1975)- Here, Allen had not shown that it is possible to distinguish the expression of the rules of his game manuals from the idea of the rules themselves. Thus, the doctrine of merger applies and although Allen may be entitled to copyright protection for the physical form of his games, he is not afforded protection for the premises or ideas underlying those games as it would give Allen a monopoly on such commonplace ideas as a simple rule on how youngsters should play their games.
The Delhi High Court in the case of MATTEL, INC. and ORS. Vs. Jayant Agarwalla and others, explained the doctrine of merger in following words:
“In the realm of copyright law the doctrine of merger postulates that were the idea and expression are inextricably connected, it would not possible to distinguish between two. In other words, the expression should be such that it is the idea, and vice-versa, resulting in an inseparable merger of the two. Applying this doctrine courts have refused to protect (through copyright) the expression of an idea, which can be expressed only in a very limited manner, because doing so would confer monopoly on the ides itself “.
In Chancellor Masters of Oxford v. Narendra Publishing House, the Supreme Court of India held that mathematical questions are expressions of laws of nature. Since language is a limited medium, such laws of nature can be expressed only in a few ways. Hence, extension of copyright protection for questions would deny access to ideas that they encompass. For these reasons, the Court held that copyright could not be extended to the questions.
Applying this doctrine courts have refused to protect (through copyright) the expression of an idea, which can be expressed only in a very limited manner, because doing so would confer monopoly on the idea itself.
Authored by Bhuvana S. Babu.
Contributed by Entertainment Lawyer Group of BananaIP