Mechanical compilations not copyrightable, reiterates Delhi HC

Delhi HC yet again gave a clear-cut judgment on the copyrightability of a mechanical compilation database. Rejecting the Plaintiff’s application for an injunction for copyright infringement and revealing confidential information, Justice Endlaw underlined the ratio of landmark judgments to clarify the principal.

In the case Navigators Logistics Ltd. v. Kashif Qureshi & Ors., CS(COMM) 735/2016 before the Delhi High Court, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw ruled yet again, that there can be no copyright in a mechanically compiled database which is devoid of any skill or judgment applied by the author. The Plaintiff company instituted the suit against 12 of its former employees for misappropriating copyrighted and confidential information after they had left the company. 

Justice Endlaw, after discovering such information as customer information and freight/carriage rates, relied on his own pronouncement in Tech Plus Media Private Ltd v. Jyoti Janda, CS(OS) 119/2010 & IA No.920/2010 where it was concluded that “Where the material is merely a product of labour and capital, as was the case in the compilation of a customer database, no copyright could be claimed.

Regarding the confidential information being revealed, the Court opined that the consumer information and rates were publicly available and hence, were common knowledge. The Court also noted that the Plaintiff had given a very vague idea about what the information entailed and hence, denied the injunction application on both grounds. 

Takeaways

  1. This judgment is in line with the famous judgment Eastern Book Companies v. D.B. Modak, (2008) 1 SCC 1 which laid two conditions for a compilation to be copyrightable – 
  1. An author must exercise skill and judgment so that it is not just a product of mere labour or capital
     
  2. The resultant work should not be mechanical. 

The mechanical nature of the compilation in the present case resulted in the rejection.

  1. To illustrate, Justice Endlaw drew parallels to his days as an advocate where he would have a list of his clients on his phone. Such a list with contact details could not be considered a literary work of copyright. This analogy clarifies what exactly would be a mechanical compilation not capable of being a copyright.
     
  2. Justice Endlaw also laid down that vague claims of an information being confidential, without identifying exactly what the information is, cannot invoke an injunction. He clarified that an information which can be obtained publicly cannot be called confidential information/trade secret.
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