Skip to main content

Case Law Extract: (No) Copyright in Titles

Note: As a general rule, no copyright subsists in the title of a (literary) work but it is not impossible for copyright to subsist in a title.

Extract: Krishika Lulla & Ors. v. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta & Anr.

Criminal Appeal No. 258 of 2013 with Criminal Appeal No. 259 OF 2013 (Decided on Oct. 15, 2015)

10. The question that arises is whether copyright exists in the title “Desi Boys”. A title of a work has been considered to be not fit to be the subject of copyright law as will be apparent from the cases considered later. A title by itself is in the nature of a name of a work and is not complete by itself, without the work. No instance of a title having been held to be the subject of copyright has been pointed out to us.

11. It must be noted that in India copyright is a statutory right recognized and protected by The Copyright Act, 1957. It must therefore be first seen if the title “Desi Boys” can be the subject of copyright. On a plain reading of Section 13, copyright subsists in inter-alia an original literary work. In the first place a title does not qualify for being described as “work”. It is incomplete in itself and refers to the work that follows. Secondly, the combination of the two words “Desi” and “Boys” cannot be said to have anything original in it. They are extremely common place words in India. It is obvious, therefore, that the title “Desi Boys”, assuming it to be a work, has nothing original in it in the sense that its origin cannot be attributed to the respondent No.1. In fact these words do not even qualify for being described as ‘literary work’. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of the word ‘literary’ as “concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form”. The mere use of common words, such as those used here, cannot qualify for being described as ‘literary’. In the present case, the title of a mere synopsis of a story is said to have been used for the title of a film. The title in question cannot therefore be considered to be a ‘literary work’ and, hence, no copyright can be said to subsist in it, vide Section 13; nor can a criminal complaint for infringement be said to be tenable on such basis. [….]

19. We are thus, of the view, that no copyright subsists in the title of a literary work and a plaintiff or a complainant is not entitled to relief on such basis except in an action for passing off or in respect of a registered trademark comprising such titles. This does not mean that in no case can a title be a proper subject of protection against being copied as held in Dicks v Yates where Jessel M.R said “there might be copyright in a title as for instance a whole page of title or something of that kind requiring invention” or as observed by Copinger (supra).

20. In the present case we find that there is no copyright in the title “Desi Boys” and thus no question of its infringement arises. The prosecution based on allegations of infringement of copyright in such a title is untenable.

(This post was first published at Indian Copyright.)