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Why Intellectual Property Rights protects only expression and not the idea?

The kinds of Intellectual Property Rights that can be protected are trademark, patent, copyright, design, trade secrets and geographical indications. The primary function of copyright law is to protect and secure the labor and fruits of a man’s work. It protects the determination, dedication and the skill of expression of an idea[i]. So it is clear that the copyright law does not protect the idea but only the expression of the idea. Here comes the questions

Why copyright law only protects the idea not the expression?

  • Each and every person does not come up with innovative and creative idea, then why an idea is not protected under law whereas the expression of the same is protected by law?
  • A person cannot express anything until n unless he has something in mind or have an idea. It will seem as a functioning human body without a brain. Idea comes first before any expression, then why the ideas are not found a need to be protected?
To get these questions answered let’s explain it more precisely by viewing both sides of the coin with proper arguments.

Ideas Also Needed To Be Protected By Law:

  1. Law should protect the ideas or the owner of the ideas. Yes, ‘the owner of the ideas’. If there is owner of any expression, work or any property then- why can’t be there owner of an idea? Idea comes from one person, may it be expressed by any other persons but it has the source from a particular human mind. It is true that expressing an idea take much labor and time to make it fruitful. But at the first place if there is no seed (idea) then how it will be sowed (implemented) and how it will grow into a tree and give fruit (expression). An idea holds as much as importance like its expression because what will a person express if there is no idea.

  2. Just imagine about the ‘eureka moment’. It accompanies so much emotion with it. The eureka moment makes the person so emotional that it barely can be handled. So the person who comes up with a creative and innovative idea suddenly before someone, and later finds out to be expressed by someone else, and taking the credit of everything then it is impossible to explain the emotion of a person, who came up with that idea.

  3. The eureka moment does not happens every day. The person who is mentally working and continuously thinking of any art, music or literature and later discusses with colleagues. But one of those colleagues expressed those ideas without the knowledge of the person who shared those ideas, and it got protected by copyright law. At last the ‘owner of the idea’ challenged the owner of the expressed work of his idea to the court but the honorable court will act as per law. But the labor behind the idea which came after every bit of thoughts and observations, all went into vain.

  4. Innovative and creative ideas do not come with a single snap. It needs much patience and good observation skills to come up with a better idea. So it needs equal protection as the expression of the idea.

Ideas Must Not Be Protected By Law:

  1. Ideas should not be protected by law because it is very hard or nearly impossible to prove the source of it. It is not easy to show that which person came up with the particular idea at the first place, whereas, the expression of an idea which is much easy to proof. In an obvious sense, the expression must be in a tangible or material form which means it must be physically present.

  2. An idea can be expressed fruitfully in a material form when that idea undergoes various ways of observation and thinking. It is not possible for a single person to come up with innovative ideas what others separately can do. Each and every person possesses a different level of intelligence power, the way of thinking, the way of observing. Ideas become more and more creative and innovative when it is passed from a person to another. If an idea gets protected by law in the first place then it will obstruct and hinder the level of creativity and innovation.

  3. Expression in a material form must be valued more than idea because the person who came with an idea cannot have a good command over language or have a remarkable writing skill. A person with an excellent expressing skill can convert a simple idea into an interesting and eye-catching expression which may motivate and attract many to view, read and listen. An idea will not bear any fruit until n unless there is a creative expression of it. For example:

    A musician comes up with an idea of a song with an intention to be liked by the youngsters. But at the same time one of his musician friends advised him with a new idea to that that he must add some pop music to it. And finally when the music was released, it was appreciated and enjoyed by almost all youngsters. This happened because the idea of the musician at first place became more creative and fruitful with the addition of another to it. If there has been a bar to the idea at first place then the particular expression would have missed the fruit and success which is holding after its release.

    Another one of the things protected under copyright law is the architectural work. It is hard that a successful architecture or a building or a monument cannot be an outcome of a single architect. An eye catching and successful architecture happens with various creative and innovative ideas by many experienced and talented architects.
    And the examples go on like this.

  4. A who is thinking on a particular matter deeply, discussed with his associate B. After listening to the idea of A, B executed or expressed that idea in material form and got protected by copyright law. Later when A came to know about the act of B, A filed the suit against B for permanent injunction and damages. But the court gave judgement against A. As court held that as per the Copyright Act 1957, the copyright law only protects the expression of an idea which is the protection to a man’s labor and hard work but not the idea.[ii]

  5. In this argument many important case laws can be taken as reference where the above arguments can be related, like:
    R.G. Anand v. Deluxe Films - in this case both the parties, plaintiff and defendant, had same script regarding a play. But the two scripts were expressed differently in play and movie respectively. Later plaintiff came to the knowledge that defendant’s movie is based on the script of his play. So plaintiff filed the suit against defendant seeking permanent injunction and the damages to the court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court gave judgement against plaintiff as court held that there was no infringement of scripts because the said script was expressed very differently or uniquely in the movie.[iii]

    Donoghue v. allied newspapers ltd. - in this case also court held that there is no copyright in idea. An idea cannot be protected by law but only the expression.[iv]


Observing both sides of the coin, at one point it feels like that the ideas should also be protected by law as the expression of the idea in material form is protected. But again side by side the arguments against the need of protection of idea by law, has nearly convinced its side. So, it is still a matter of more arguments and more point of views which need to be framed. From my point of view ideas also need to be protected by more advanced law, where will be logical guidelines based on which one can prove that who is the ‘owner of the idea’ and can gain the credit of being its owner.

  1. The Copyright Act,1957
  2. Senthil Kumar, Idea-Expression Dichotomy Under Copyright Law, mondaq, (October 19,2016),
  3. Sankalp Jain, The Principle of Idea-Expression Dichotomy: A Comparative Study of US,UK,&Indian Jurisdiction, SSRN, (March 8,2013),
  4. Ibid

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