No Copyright subsists in the title of a work.

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No Copyright subsists in the title of a work as the title of a work has been considered to be not fit to be the subject of copyright law. A title by itself is in the nature of a name of a work and is not complete by itself, without the work. In the recent decision in Krishika Lulla & Ors V. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta & Anr Criminal Appeal No. 259 of 2013 (delivered on October 15, 2015) supreme court held that no copyright subsists in the title of a literary work” as a title does not qualify for being described as “Work”. It is incomplete in itself and refers to the work that follows.

The Respondent claims copyright in a synopsis of a story written by him with the title “Desi Boys”. According to respondent, he had written a story with the title “Desi Boys” and had got the synopsis of the story registered with the Film Writers Association on 25.11.2008, he mailed the concept of the story in the form of a synopsis with the title “Desi Boys” as an attachment to an email addressed to appellants, respondent did not received any reply from the appellants. But, suddenly the respondent saw the promos of a film bearing the title “Desi Boys”, actually spelt as “Desi Boyz”. The appellants released their film with the title “Desi Boyz” throughout the world including India on 25.11.2011. According to respondent, the adoption of the title “Desi Boyz” is a clear infringement of the copyright in the film title “Desi Boys”.

The main issue that arises for determination is whether the respondent has copyright in the title “Desi Boys” which he has given to the synopsis of a story.

The Court 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. In fact these words do not even qualify for being described as ‘literary work’. 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.

Further, the Hon’ble court observed 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).

In the present case the Hon’ble Court held 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.

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