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The Idea-Expression Dichotomy: Balancing Imagination and Articulation

There was a huge conflict for getting copyright protection, copyright law is totally based on idea expression dichotomy, it became an integral part for determining that what can be copyrighted, in copyright act 1957, there is not any clear definition of idea and expression but through international conventions, foreign decisions and Indian verdicts on that, it make us clear the concept of idea and expression dichotomy.

Basically idea can not be protected under the copyright law, it only protects the author's particular expression of an idea, because if protection given to the idea it will impossible for the court to determine from whom that particular idea has been derived, it become impossible to find out the true owner/ author of that idea, any person can claim the ownership.

In Baker vs Selden 1880, in this case the idea expression dichotomy concept was evolved and The Court ruled out, method or process can not be copyrighted, if protection given to those, it will bring monopoly in the society and then nobody can use that particular method or idea that is universal in nature.

In TRIPS and Berne convention explicitly depicts that:
"Idea per se can not be copyrighted, the protection shall only subsist in author's expression only."

So there were not any codified law regarding idea expression dichotomy, The idea-expression dichotomy was codified for the first time in 1976. Section 102(b) of the US Copyright Act of 1976, it says that Copyright protection shall not be given to idea, method, process, medium, discovery and the work of the author must be fixed in writing or recorded.

In Dongohue vs. Allied News Paper, The court ruled out copyright subsists in work, not in ideas . Ideas are not the subject matter of copyright. Copyright in a work is not infringed if someone takes the essential idea from it and develops his own work.

"If the idea, however brilliant and however clever it may be, is nothing more than an idea and is not put into any form of words or any form of expression such as a picture or play, then there is no copyright at all."

However Donoghue's case critisized by Justice B.N. Kirpal in Najma Heptulla v M/s Orient Longman Ltd. Observed, "If two persons contribute equally in the pre-concerted joint design then both should be regarded as joint authors."

In RG anand vs Delux Films, Supreme Court held that if the work is copied from the same source it can not get protection, bound to occur similarities and the readers and viewers will decide how much the work is original.

In Anil Gupta vs Kunal Das Gupta, The Plaintiff sent an idea through concept note and a confidential agreement has been signed, but defendant violated all the conditions and took advantage, but in this case Supreme court said idea can not be copyrighted even though it is brilliant and outstanding, nevertheless plaintiff sent his idea through a concept note it becomes expression of the idea of the plaintiff and shall get protection under the copyright law, defendant had infringed the work of the plaintiff as well.

However Indian Copyright Act 1957 does not provide any clear cut concept of idea and expression dichotomy but in section 13 says subject matters in which copyright can be subsist.

In a nutshell, we can understand that expression of a particular idea of an author only get protected under the copyright law, however fantastic however clever idea can be it will never get protected under the law until and unless it is fixed in writing or recorded.

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