Eastern Book Company v DB Modak

The appellants in this book company case[1] were publishing and printing various books related to law. The Eastern Book Company is highly renowned for publishing the law report “Supreme Court Cases”. The appellant publishes orders, short judgements and recordings of the judgements; the term SCC was introduced by the appellant and henceforth has been used exclusively to publish work related to the law field. To publish the orders, proceedings and judgements on the journal, all the original copies of these works were directly procured by the office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court.

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The appellant side made some copy-editing inputs in the raw material which was procured from the Supreme court to make it user-friendly and easy to understand; with that they also formatted the entire text by putting it in a uniform manner, cross-referencing, paragraph numbering, etc. Apart from basic changes they put an ample amount of hard work, skill, labour and experience to add headnotes and editorial notes. The appellant contented that any reproduction, copying or scanning from the text in SCC would be a clear infringement of copyright u/s. 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957.

Copyright provides a protection and gives the right to the publisher  that no other person can exploit or use his work without his consent. The basic principle of copyright clearly states that “facts” cannot be given any copyright because they are neither originated nor created by the author but are readily available to him. Whatever rights are conferred to the author are defined u/s. 14 and 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957. Section 13 provides that all literary works have to be original in nature.

To claim copyright, it is important to establish creativity, like to arrange the facts or points mentioned in the main text of the judgment. It is the very intention of every law journal to make it user-friendly by arranging and presenting it in a simpler and more strategic  manner; these presentation skills and selection of content is a clear outcome of skill, capital and labour. Copyright never demands invention, innovation or novelty to claim it; rather it only wants creativity and the author’s original content.

Writing each new paragraph involves new ideas, extensive reading and careful consideration as to what to add to the text. Being an editor sometimes just means making the text more simplifies, user-friendly and presentable to the user that he can do it even without properly reading it or it can be called as a mechanical process where a person is so well trained of his work because his work require repetition of the same task but here there is a lot of difference in being an editor; every case law that you read is written differently by different people having divergent opinion with application of different laws.

In Macmillan v. Suresh Chunder Deb[2], the plaintiffs had a copyright of various poems and songs composed by different authors which were published in the year 1861. In 1889 the defendant published the same poems and songs as in plaintiffs’ book but in different arrangements. The plaintiff claimed his copyright over the publication while the defendant contended that there was no issue of copyright infringement. The court held that in cases where the work has been compiled or composed by materials that are available to all, meaning if one person has published some work in a field that doesn’t take the right away from everybody else to publish any work in that particular field. Keeping that in mind it is also required to see the precedent in this book company case as mentioned by Hall in the case of Hogg v. Scott;

“….the true principle in all these cases is, that the defendant is not at liberty to use or avail himself of the labour which the plaintiff has been at for the purpose of producing his work, that is, in fact, merely to take away the result of another man’s labour, or, in other words, his property.[3]

If the creation proves that the work is a result of labour, skill and capital then it would be enough to claim copyright. It favours the ‘Sweat of the brow’ standards. The only prerequisite to copyright is that it should be the author’s original work which means that the author has put in his efforts with means of his experience and skill, the copyright doesn’t require literary merit or originality. The court held in this case that the defendant has infringed the copyright of the plaintiff as the defendant failed to prove the court their usage of skill and labour.

In the case of University of London Press Ltd. v. University Tutorial Press Ltd.[4], is perhaps the most thorough case to understand the concept of “Originality”. To be original doesn’t mean that it shall be novel but only that it should not be copied from someone else and a creation of the author. At a university some people were appointed as the examiners on the prior condition that all the copyright of papers would be with the University. The defendant company published several question papers in which two papers were being set by two examiners. The copyright was with the plaintiff by the University and hence they filed a case of copyright infringement. The plaintiff argued before the court that they exercised their experience, judgement and memory; the selection and segregation of the required content involved  precise decision, consideration and choices. The defendant argued that their sole purpose was to help the students by providing material. The court accepted that it was a literary piece of work. Here literary work means something being expressed in the form of writing or printing regardless of the fact whether or not the quality of the content is high or low. Hence, the court held “Original” does not mean novel ideas or invention but rather shall be the author’s uncopied work.


1)  What comprises originality in the copy-edited judgements of the Supreme Court and what all is essential to treat a derivative work as an original work done by the author and thereby protecting his work and giving him the right under Copyright Act, 1957?

2)  Whether the complete text of the Copy book-edited version of the judgement published by the appellants law journal report would be allowed to have the copyright and treated as an ‘original literary work’ or would it be allowed to have the copyright in some parts of the inputs which has been inserted in the raw text? Therefore, whether by inserting or amending some minor changes in the judgement which is delivered by the court called as a “original copy-edited judgement” and whoever claims first of delivering it with the standard of originality be it a person, company or any authority would become the publisher of such original judgement with the copyright?



The inputs done in the copy-edited judgments as mentioned by the appellants do not satisfy the creativity standards of the copyright; but the original text used by the appellants in (I) Separating the paragraphs mentioned in the original text and segregating them into new paragraphs; (ii) inserting numbering to paragraphs in the judgement after adding a uniform paragraph numbering system to various judgements; (iii) inferring which judge gave a concurring or dissenting opinion by starting each para with terms like  “partly concurring”, “concurring”, “dissenting”, “partly dissenting” or “majority opinion” etc. The editor who inserted para numbering and term with paras must have known the legal discourse and how to decipher a judgement. There are catena of cases wherein the contentions by parties and conclusion by the judge are mentioned in the same paragraph; it then becomes the responsibility of the editor to convey the message in the same manner as the judge did and also have to refrain from adding any text or information which isn’t mentioned in the text. Hence it requires a person who has a working knowledge as to whether to club two paragraphs which seem similar or to divide the two into different paragraphs to show the slightest difference in opinion mentioned within the text. It shows that the judgement written by the appellant entails brain activity, reading within the lines and understanding the diversity of the subject, the issues, statutory provisions and the application of law upon which such dispute has arisen.

Therefore, these inputs put forth by the appellant regarding the judgements in SCC would be allowed to have a copyright and no other party is allowed to use the same. The High Court in this book company case allowed the defendant to sell their CD-ROMS  entailing the text of the judgement with the headnotes and editorial notes of their own but shall not be allowed in any manner to copy the footnotes or the editorial notes of the appellant. Also, the defendant will not be allowed to use the terms like “dissenting” or “concurring” before the paragraphs as done by the SCC.


[1] Eastern Book Company v. D. B. Modak, 2008 1 SCC 1.

[2] ILR (1890) 17 Cal 951.

[3] 1874 LR 18 Eq 444.

[5] (1916) 2 Ch 601.


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