The subject matter of copyright encompasses a vast array of creative works that are eligible for legal protection.

Copyright law safeguards original expressions in various forms, including literary works, artistic creations, musical compositions, sound recordings, motion pictures, and more.

The authors and owners of these works have the exclusive right to determine their usage, reproduction, distribution, and public performance.

Since copyright sets the parameters of protection and promotes a balanced environment that stimulates creativity, innovation, and the transmission of artistic endeavors, understanding its subject matter is crucial for both producers and consumers.

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Concept of Copyright

Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection that grants certain rights to the creators and producers of various works.

These works include literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic creations, as well as cinematographic films and sound recordings.

Although specific rights can vary depending on the nature of the work, copyright rights cover a wide variety of actions, including reproduction, public communication, adaptation, and translation.

In India, the Copyright Act of 1957 aligns with international agreements like the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyrights Convention.

India has signed the conventions and abides by the Geneva Convention for the Protection of the Rights of Producers of Phonograms.

Additionally, India actively participates in organisations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

According to the Copyright Act, “copyright” is defined as the exclusive rights bestowed upon the content owner.

Section 14 of the Act outlines various authorised actions, including adaptation, reproduction, publication, translation, and public communication, among others.

Only the copyright owner or someone authorised by the owner can exercise these rights.

It’s important to note that copyright registration, while establishing an entry in the Copyright Register maintained by the Registrar of Copyright Office, does not in itself confer any additional rights.

Subject Matter Of Protection

In today’s highly technological world, a thorough comprehension of copyright infringement and the safeguarding of subject matter is crucial due to its global scope.

Section 2 of the Copyright Act of 1957, along with judicial interpretations over time, outlines various categories of works eligible for protection.

After careful analysis of the classifications and categorisations provided in different subsections of Section 2 of the Copyright Act of 1957, as well as considering the legal opinions of Indian high courts and the Supreme Court, the following types of works (which are mentioned below) are recognised and enjoy copyright protection under the current amended legislation.

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Subject Matter of Copyright: Protected Works and Their Categories

The subject matter of copyright encompasses a range of creative works known as protected works.

As defined in Section 13 of the Copyright Act 1957, these include original musical works, literary works, dramatic works, cinematographic films, artistic works, and sound recordings.

Original Musical Work

A musical work consists of music and may include graphical notations. However, it does not include works intended to be sung, spoken, or performed with the music.

In the 2012 Amendment, statutory licenses were introduced for cover versions, allowing for certain adaptations of existing musical works.

It’s important to note that a song typically comprises both literary and musical elements, with the lyrics protected as a literary work and the accompanying music considered a musical work.

These distinct rights may be owned by different individuals, with authorship varying accordingly.

Original Dramatic Work

An original dramatic work encompasses various forms, including recitation pieces, choreographic works, and entertainment expressed through physical gestures without speech.

It involves fixed expressions of the scenic arrangement and acting, whether in written form or other mediums, excluding cinematograph films.

The terms “literary” and “dramatic” often go hand in hand, with the principles applicable to literary works extending to dramatic works as well.

The author of a dramatic work is the individual responsible for creating and authoring the work, shaping its characters, plot, and dialogue.

Original Artistic Work

The Copyright Act defines an original artistic work to include a range of creative expressions.

This includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, diagrams, maps, charts, plans, engravings, and photographs.

The artistic quality of the work is not a prerequisite for copyright protection.

Additionally, architectural works and works of artistic craftsmanship fall within the scope of original artistic works.

The authorship of an artistic work, excluding photographs, lies with the artist who created it.

In the realm of photography, the person who captures the image is generally acknowledged as the author.

Notably, there have been discussions regarding the copyright eligibility of a selfie taken by a monkey, with courts emphasising that intellectual property rights pertain only to the creative works of humans.

Cinematography Films

Cinematography films refer to visual recordings that capture moving images and may also include accompanying sound recordings.

The term “cinematograph” encompasses works created through processes similar to cinematography, including video films.

In the field of cinematography, the producer of a film is credited with authorship and bears the creative and financial responsibility for its production.

The producer oversees the production process and ensures the artistic and technical elements come together to create a cohesive audiovisual work.

Original Literary Work

An original literary work, as defined in the copyright statute, encompasses a wide range of creative written expressions.

It includes novels, poems, plays, essays, articles, short stories, speeches, computer programs, databases, and other literary compositions.

For a work to qualify for copyright protection, it must be an original creation that showcases the author’s intellectual effort and not just a copy of pre-existing material.

The person who creates a literary work is typically known as the author.

Copyright protection extends to both published and unpublished literary works, granting the author exclusive control over their original literary creations.

Sound Recordings

A sound recording refers to a recorded representation of sounds that can be reproduced, regardless of the medium or method used for recording.

It encompasses the capture of sounds that can be played back, such as music, vocals, or other audio elements.

Within the scope of copyright, the individual accountable for the recording process is generally regarded as the author of a sound recording.

Duration of Copyright Protection

The length of copyright protection differs depending on the nature of the work under protection.

Copyright protection for literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works lasts for the author’s lifetime plus 60 years after their death.

The period of copyright protection for posthumously published works is 60 years from the date of their first publication.

This duration applies to cinematograph films, sound recordings, government works, and works of international organisations.

By providing legal protection for sound recordings, copyright legislation safeguards the rights of producers and creators in their recorded audio content, ensuring their exclusive rights and control over the reproduction and distribution of their work for a specified period.

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Godrej Soaps (P) Ltd v. Dora Cosmetics Co.

The Delhi High Court issued an important decision in this matter.

It was determined that when a carton is designed by an individual during their employment and for the benefit of the plaintiff, without any evidence provided by the defendant in their defense, the plaintiff becomes the assignee and rightful owner of the copyright associated with the carton, including its logo.

This decision reaffirmed the importance of copyright ownership and protection, particularly in cases involving creative works developed within the scope of employment.

Eastern Book Company v. Navin J. Desai

In this case, an important question arose regarding the existence of copyright in the reporting of court judgments.

The Delhi High Court clarified the matter by referring to relevant sections of the Copyright Act.

It recognised that works made or published under the direction or control of any court or judicial authority in India are considered government works under Section 2(k) of the Act.

Consequently, under Section 52(q), the reproduction or publication of court judgments or orders does not infringe upon the government’s copyright in these works.

The court emphasised that anyone is free to reproduce and publish government works, including court judgments.

However, it was noted that if an individual provides extensive commentary or analysis on a judgment, such commentary may be protected under the Copyright Act.

According to the court, judgments are not eligible for copyright protection and are in the public domain, allowing for their reproduction without infringing on copyright laws.

Trivial changes, such as spelling corrections or typographical mistakes, do not warrant copyright protection.


The subject matter of copyright encompasses various forms of creative expression, including literary works, artistic works, sound recordings, motion pictures, architectural designs, and industrial designs.

It is important to note that copyright protection does not depend on the literary merit of a work; rather, it focuses on the originality and expression captured in tangible form.

Ownership in copyright may be subject to limitations and exceptions, such as fair use.

The scope of copyright protection varies depending on the medium of expression and the applicable intellectual property laws.

The term of copyright varies as well, providing rights to authors for a specified period.

Overall, copyright serves to safeguard the rights of creators and encourages the creation of new and innovative works in various artistic forms, adapting to the evolving landscape of creative expression from time to time.

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What is the condition of copyright protection?

Copyright protection is granted automatically upon the creation of an original work in tangible form.

There is no requirement for registration or any other formalities to secure copyright protection.

It is recommended to add a copyright notice (©) with the year of creation and the name of the copyright owner to assert copyright ownership.

When does an infringement of copyright occur?

Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses the exclusive rights of the copyright owner without permission or a valid license.

This can involve the copyrighted work being modified, distributed, performed publicly, or shown without authorisation.

Infringement can result in legal action and potential penalties.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal protection offered to creators of various types of original works, such as literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works, as well as other forms of creative expression.

It provides a framework for the protection and promotion of creativity, encouraging innovation and rewarding the efforts of authors and creators.