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“The nation wants to know”- this innocuous sounding sentence has generated a legal tangle between Arnab Goswami and his erstwhile employers- The Times Group , with the latter claiming copyright over this issues. So, who does the existing law favour?


There are two essential questions that crop up-

1-            Can a phrase be copyrighted?

2-            Who holds copyrightability over such titles/phrases created over course of employment?




Under Section 13 (1) of The Copyright Act, 1957, “original” literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, cinematograph films and sound recordings are to be protected from unauthorized uses. Copyright laws, unlike patent laws, protect the expression of an idea and not an idea itself.


As seen in the cases of Krishika Lulla V Shyam Vithal Rao Devkatta (2015) 43 SCD 64, for any title or phrase, it has to be “original” to qualify as a literary work. Mere use of common words does not qualify for copyright protection, until it is something that did not exist before, i.e. something not in public domain before. In this case, it is very clear that the phrase did not exist before- Arnab Goswami developed the phrase.

Citing the “de minimis” threshold for copyrightability- as referred to in the case of Pepsi Company V   Hindustan Coca Cola 2003 (27) PTC 305 Del- the court will look out for at least some bare minimum level of intellectual labour and originality. Thus, seemingly, precedent and historicity may allow the phrase to be copyrighted- thus answering the first question.



However, who holds the copyrights over the phrase?  Under Section 17 (a) of the Copyright Act, 1957 that any literary, dramatic or artistic work made by an author in the course of employment, will make the copyright relating to publication of the work in any newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, or to the reproduction of the work for the purpose of its being so published subsist with the employer.


However, as seen in the case of VT Thomas V Malyalam Manorama, AIR 1989, Ker 49, the court said that all artistic works made by an author, as an employee and in the course of employment, under Section 17 (c) of the Copyright Act, 1957, pass onto the employer, except in circumstances like termination of employment. But, in that very case, the court found that the characters used by VT Thomas in his cartoon strip , had been created by him even before he joined Malyalam Manorama, thus making him and not the magazine, i.e. his employer, the author of the characters which had been in existence even before his employment with Malyalam Manorama.


Thus, VT Thomas could hold the copyright over the characters and come up with new cartoon strips. But, older cartoon strips made by VT Thomas  consisting of the same characters while in Malyalam Manorama’s service, would be under the copyright protection of the magazine as they were in his erstwhile “course of employment”. 

However, in this case, seemingly Arnab Goswami created the catch-phrase while being an employee of Times Now and not before-hand. Therefore, if there is no agreement to the contrary, Times Now and not Arnab Goswami will be held to be the owners of the copyright of this catchphrase.