“Copyright misuse” is a doctrine recognized in the US as an equitable defence against an allegation of copyright infringement, based on a copyright owner’s wrongful exploitation and misuse of its exclusive rights. This doctrine is not embodied in any US law but is found only in case law and is derived from the doctrine of patent misuse.
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw of Delhi High Court dealt with the copyright misuse doctrine in detail for the first time in India in his recent judgment in Tekla Corporation & Anr v Survo Ghosh & Anr, dated 16 May.
The US doctrine
The doctrine of copyright misuse was enshrined in a judgment of a US Court of Appeals in Lasercomb America v Reynolds in 1990. In this case the court held that the copyright holders had misused their copyright because restrictions in their licence agreement were for a period of 99 years instead of the standard 75 years. The court held that since the copyright holders’ exploitation of their copyright was not merely anti-competitive but also against public policy, it amounted to copyright misuse. Because of the copyright holders’ “unclean hands”, the court would not enforce their copyright and would not sustain their allegations against the defendants.
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Safia Said, a senior associate at Saikrishna & Associates, appeared for Tekla in the above case. Suvarna Mandal is an associate at the firm. The views expressed in this article are personal.
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