Supreme Court Judgments: Not Protected by CopyrightJudgments delivered by the Supreme Court have wide legal ramifications. Hence, they need to be widely circulated among lawyers, academicians, law students and other interested persons. With the advent of the internet and several legal websites, access to these judgments has become easier. The Supreme Court itself has a Judgment Information System (JIS) where each judgment is posted and can be searched though various parameters. But when it comes to hard copy, a few firms have been traditionally taking out publications reporting these judgments as Supreme Court Cases (SCC). These publishing houses employ editors who classify the judgments according to the verdict given by the court. There is other editorial work in the form of references, clarifications and explanations. But can such publishing houses claim copyright over the judgments and the editorial input and prevent others from reproducing the material?
By Sunil Garodia
Eastern Book Company has been publishing SCCs in book form for a long time. They had got a ad interim injunction order from the District Judge, Lucknow to restrain Reed Elsevier India Pvt. Ltd. from reproducing content from their books, which they claimed were literary works and hence protected by copyright. The Allahabad High Court subsequently upheld the same. Aggrieved by this, Reed Elsevier approached the Supreme Court.
A Supreme Court bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana has recently ruled that Supreme Court judgments are not bound by copyright and everyone has the right to reproduce them (if they are put out as reportable by the court) and comment on them.
The court agreed with the counsel of Reed Elsevier that terms like concurring, partly concurring, dissenting etc. are generic terms commonly used in legal parlance and no one claim copyright over such assessment of court judgments. Also, a publishing house using Supreme Court judgments, whether raw or editorially enhanced, cannot claim such work to be literary work protected by copyright. The court allowed Reed Elsevier to reproduce the judgments.