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Digital Copyright Law

"All great changes are preceded by chaos."- Deepak Chopra (Indian American author)

Law is an ever evolving topic since it is a response to social problems and, social issues keep on changing with time. One such area where law needs to be constantly changing is the area of technology. One of the most brilliant gifts provided by the human mind to the human community is technology, and digital technology is the most recent advancement that is in progress on a global scale.

Digitalization have no doubt brought with itself a positive change across the world, however the wrong use of it is also giving birth to chaos and crime. The most affected intellectual property right is the copyright. Protection of copyright has become a key issue in the digital era.

As one may be aware the copyright is known to be granted to literary, artistic, musical or dramatic works, however with the development of technology new ideas and concepts have emerged such as computer programs, database and other works on Internet etc.

The vastness of the digital world has made it much easier for a protected work to be copied, reproduced and collected or distributed. In modern times, cyberspace which is a non physical platform accessible through various networking systems has come within the ambit of almost every individual. Such exposure is resulting to various forms of copyright infringement.

Copyright law and cyberspace

The concept of copyright came into existence right after the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. In the very beginning of the copyright era, copyright protection was brought into existence to safeguard literary and artistic works but with time the fusion of creativity and technology gave birth to various new works such as photography, photographs were included in copyright as artistic work; cinematography films was another category of new work which was also included in copyright as artistic work.

It can be seen that the copyright law constantly keeps changing according to the evolving needs of the society. With global progression in the field of digital technology new endeavors developed in recent times such as computer programs, multimedia, computer databases and social media platforms.

Computer programs

Computer programs is defined as:
a set of instructions capable when incorporated in a machine readable medium, or causing a machine having information processing capabilities to indicate, perform or achieve a particular function, task or result.

The issue of earmarking the correct intellectual property right regime for insuring computer program was a dilemma for the international community for a long time.

The question was that which intellectual property rights regime i.e. patent or copyright; should cover 'computer programs'. This debate lasted for quite a while and was put to an end by Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). In one of its provision it is included "Computer programs whether in source or object code, shall be protected as literary works under the Berne Convention". In India, however computer programs were added under copyright before this Agreement.


Database refers to the compilation of various independent, original or non-original data in systematic manner and is accessible through various electronic and other means. Now database is made up of two things ~ the program that handles and manages the data and the data content itself.

The program is considered as literary work and is thus copyrightable, but the copyright of the content was in question so, that TRIPS Agreement provided that:
compilations of data or other material whether in machine readable or other form which by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents constitute intellectual creations shall be protected as such. Such protection, which shall not extend to the data or material itself, shall be without prejudice to any copyright subsisting in the data material itself.

In India databases is included under the definition of literary work inserted by ACT 49 of 1999. The US Supreme Court in the famous case of Feast publications expressed that there should be a 'minimum level of creativity' for a compiled work (database) to be eligible for protection under copyright.


Multimedia in general sense means the work that consists of various components such as sound, images (still or moving), texts; which means that multimedia is a collection of artistic, literary, musical and dramatic works. The classification of multimedia work in intellectual property rights is complicated as most of the new works are or can be a mixture of the original work.

Multimedia have not been defined by the Indian Copyright Act however these works can be guarded under cinematographic films, computer programs or literary works but each of these works have different definitions and rights under the copyright law thus issue of using separate copyrights may arise. Multimedia is considered the most vulnerable aspects in the copyright segment.

Social media

Another vulnerable field where the protection of copyright is very much in danger is the social media. Social media is a connection platform for its users from across the world. This platform allows easy sharing of videos, photos and many other contents and since it is effortlessly accessible to anyone, people tend to misuse the contents of the social media.

However various solutions to tackle this problem was introduced such as watermarking the work, restricting access, blocking the copy pasting features and use of blockchain technology. Reposting anything without proper credit to the owner also amounts to copyright infringement. Social Medias such as Instagram and YouTube have features which allow reporting accounts that infringe copyright Protection. In spite of all the technology people are still finding counter techniques to violate copyright, which is a red flag and demands proper legal action to avoid unauthorized use in the digital domain.

Digital copyright as an emerging trend

The electronic world has with time become a nexus of violation of copyright laws. Crimes such as downloading and uploading of a copyrighted material without proper consent, derivative works, hotlinking and software piracy are only a few examples of how infringement of copyright is carried out in the digital era.

In case of you UTV Software Communication Limited v. 1337X.To and Ors. The Delhi High Court observed there is no difference between digital copyright infringement and infringement of copyright in physical world as there is no logical way of differentiating the crimes committed virtually from the crimes committed in the physical world, moreover the Copyright Act does not provide such contrast.

In another case Disney Enterprise inc. and Ors. V. Kim cartoon and Ors. the Delhi High Court barred defendants from copying, distributing, streaming, hosting any cinematographic work or show through the use of Internet thus protecting the plaintiff and copyright owner from being victims of copyright infringement. The Indian courts have also adopted a rather new concept for reducing electronic piracy that is the John doe order.

When a creator, writer or any other person who produces a copyrightable intellectual property have an anticipation that their work can be or is being copied and used illegally by an unknown person or entity, can file for the John Doe order. For passing of the order the identity of the accused need to be known and yet he or she becomes a party to the case. Order 39 rule 1 and 2 of the code of Civil Procedure 1908, empowers Indian courts to pass such order.

The Information Technology Act, 2000 also provides provisions for imprisonment and a fine for illegal distribution of copyright protected work through Internet. The recent amendment of the Copyright Act that is the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012 have also structured the act to become more compatible regarding protection of copyrighted materials in the area of digitalization.

With time and technology, the digital world is expanding and keeps changing and with the change it also brings uncertainty, new problems and different ways to infringe laws. The new era of digitalization have definitely aided creativity and its effective spread among public however, have also given birth to different worries and distress regarding infringement of the same.

Though the legal system; both national and international are gearing up and adapting to changes and new amendments, still it is subject to an area of development. And if great minds are put together a lot more can be done to protect the rights of the copyright owners. This chase to keep the evolving digital era crimeless will be a never-ending race. But again challenges are the essence of life.

  • Hellmut E. Lehmann-Haupt, "Johannes Gutenberg", available at:
  • The Copyright Act, 1957
  • World Intellectual Property Organization, " Copyright, Monthly Review of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)" 12 (January, 1978)
  • Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, art. 10.1.
  • Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, art. 10.2.
  • TC James, "Indian Copyright Law and Digital Technologies ", 7 Journal of Intellectual Property Rights 427 (2002).
  • Feist Publications Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company Inc., 499 U.S. 340 (1991
  • Divisha, "John Doe Order", available at:
  • The Information Technology Act, 2000, s. 66.

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