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Database Protection

This is a collection of cases that have set judicial precedent for database protection issues.

Published onApr 01, 2020
Database Protection


Govindan v. Gopalakrishna, AIR 1955 Madras 391

This is a case of copyright infringement, and piracy, questioning the capacity of compiled publications, like dictionaries or encyclopedias, to possess a copyright. The appellant and respondent in this case are both publishers and compilers of two separate English-English-Tamil dictionaries, with the contention between them that one is a copy of the other. The Court in this case held, “It is pertinent to mention that India itself being a commonwealth country follows the “sweat of the brow” doctrine. The Indian courts have therefore protected compilations involving minimal originality stating that “no man is entitled to steal or appropriate for himself the result of another’s brain, skill or labour even in such works.”

Burlington Home Shopping Pvt. Ltd. v. Rajnish Chibber & Anr., 1995 PTC (15) 278.

The plaintiff in this case, Burlington Home Shopping Pvt. Ltd., was a mail order service company. The defendant was a former employee of the company, who after leaving the company started another similar business, utilising the plaintiff’s database of contacts. The contention in this case was whether the database of contacts constituted an “original literary work”, and whether it consequently could possess a copyright. The Court held “A compilation of addresses developed by any one by devoting time, money, labour and skill though the source may be commonly situated amounts to a ‘literary work’ wherein the author has a copyright.” Other than this, client lists as databases are also protected under the law relating to confidential information and trade secrets.

Himalaya Drug Company v. Sumit, Suit No.1719 of 2000 [126(2006) DLT 23].

In this case, the plaintiffs ran a database of herbal healthcare and products on their website ( The defendants were found running a website of their own (, with allegations that they reproduced the plaintiff's entire herbal data, verbatim. In the first ever instance of copying of electronic databases, the Delhi High Court has been instrumental in injuncting an Italian infringer. The court held that the defendant had in fact copied the plaintiff’s online herbal database onto its website, and that there was misappropriation of effort, skill, expenses that had gone into the creation of plaintiff’s website and database.

Eastern Book Company and Ors v. Navin J Desai and Ors 2001(58) DRJ 103

This is the landmark case that deals with the copyright protection of the SCC Online Supreme Court Case Finder. The "Case Finder" includes over 84,000 cases along with headnotes published in the plaintiffs’ journal SCC. The appellant claimed copyright in the headnotes to the judgments as well as in the selection, arrangement and copy-editing of the judgments. However, the Court held that judgments of the Court are public documents that can be reproduced by anyone, and no one can claim copyright over such public documents.  However, in case, a person by extensive reading, careful study and comparison and with the exercise of taste and judgment has made certain comments about judgment or has written a commentary thereon, may be such a comment and commentary is entitled to protection under the Copyright Act.

Eastern Book Company & Ors v. D.B. Modak & Anr., AIR 2008 SC 809 (Civil Appeal No. 6472 of 2004).

The case dealt with the SCC Law Reporters database containing Supreme Court judgments. The Court held that in order to claim copyright protection, the original work should be the product of an exercise of skill and judgment and it is a workable yet fair standard. Novelty or invention or innovative idea is not the requirement for protection of copyright but it does require minimal degree of creativity. Under such a standard, the court held that mere copy-editing (clerical corrections, syntax etc.) wouldn’t qualify as they did not involve “creativity”, but skill expended in writing headnotes, footnotes and editorial notes would qualify. In this case the Court adopted and concurred with the ‘sweat of the brow doctrine’.

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