Study guides do not constitute copyright infringement

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In Syndicate of the Press & Anr v BD Bhandari and Anr, Delhi High Court recently addressed the issue of copyright infringement in certain published study materials used in schools and colleges. A suit was instituted to restrain the defendants from selling books titled MBD English Guide, which they had published and which incorporated text that was taken verbatim from the plaintiff’s publication. Dismissing the suit, the court held that the guides – locally known as kunjies or dukkies – are basically tools not for study or understanding, but for undertaking an examination at short notice.

The court held that the market and patronage for study guides and textbooks are quite different. The purchaser of a guide may also possess the original textbook, but may not have read it. The guides are intended to help students by extracting specific elements from the textbooks which may be used to answer questions posed in an examination. The publisher of a guide thus cannot be expected to alter or vary the content of such extracts. No originality or invention is displayed in composing these exercises, which are based on simple day to day usage of the English language. The plaintiffs therefore cannot claim any monopoly over such material.

The court further held that since the defendants have also compiled their books with sufficient labour, they cannot be accused of reproducing the plaintiff’s books without any effort or original input, or of marketing them to the detriment of the plaintiff.

The update of court judgments is compiled by Bhasin & Co, Advocates, a corporate law firm based in New Delhi. The authors can be contacted at lbhasin@bhasinco.in, lbhasin@vsnl.com or lbhasin@gmail.com. Readers should not act on the basis of this information without seeking professional legal advice.