The Merger Doctrine
Updated: Dec 24, 2021
The Merger Doctrine is an established concept under the Common law which seeks to rectify the issue which arises in instances of convergence of the idea and expression in a work. The doctrine is considered to be executed in pursuance of the ‘idea-expression dichotomy’ to establish the limits of the Copyright Law. It is one of the fundamental rules of the Copyright Law which states that ideas cannot be protected. The Law only protects the creative expression of any idea or concept. Multiple precedents such as the case of RG Anand v. Deluxe Films has established that ideas do not fall within the ambit of the Copyright Law. In the aforementioned case, the issue had arisen regarding the similarity between two movie scripts based on the same idea. But the court ruled against protection and stated that ideas are not copyrightable.
WHAT IS THE MERGER DOCTRINE?
It is irrevocably acknowledged that ideas are not copyrightable. Therefore, an issue arises in the instance where ideas and expression of any work intersect. This may occur when an idea can only be expressed in a singular form. One of the widely accepted objectives of the Copyright Law is that it fosters and promotes creativity in society. In the case of a convergence between idea and expression, protection of the latter would lead to an obstruction on the creative expression of such an idea. Thus, courts have established that since protection of expression of these ideas would be contradictory to the inert objectives of the Copyright Law, these works shall not fall under the ambit of copyright protection. The underlying principle ensures that there is no instance of gatekeeping of the creative expression of certain ideas.
INSTANCES OF APPLICATION OF THE MERGER DOCTRINE
In multiple instances, the Courts across the globe have accepted and reiterated the principles of the Merger Doctrine. In the case of Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corporation v. Kalpakian, a jewelled bee-shaped pin was the work in contention. The Court had ruled that since the idea of a bee-shaped pin can only be expressed in a singular manner, the same cannot be copyrighted. In another case of Affiliated Hospital Products, Inc. v. Merdel Game Mfg. Co., the Court had once again ruled against copyright protection with respect to the principles and concepts of a video game. It was stated that conceptual similarity between video games cannot be protected as the idea can only be expressed in a specific manner. While, protection was allowed with respect to the physical forms within the video game.
The concept has also been accepted in the Indian Courts. In the case of Chancellor Masters of Oxford v. Narendra Publishing House, the courts have recognised mathematical expressions are merely different language of the laws of nature and thus cannot be protected. Since the expression in the form of numbers is the only way to convey a mathematical idea, the same falls under the ambit of the Doctrine of Merger.
Affiliated Hospital Products, Inc. v. Merdel Game Mfg. Co., 513 F.2d 1183, 1188-89 (2nd Cir. 1975)
Banana IP, Doctrine of Merger and Copyright Law, https://www.bananaip.com/ip-news-center/doctrine-of-merger-and-copyright-law/
Chancellor Masters of Oxford v. Narendra Publishing House, [IA 9823/2005, 51/2006 and 647/2006 in CS(OS) 1656/2005.
Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corporation v. Kalpakian, 446 F.2d 738(1971)
RG Anand v. Deluxe Films, AIR 1978 SC 1613.
SCIP, The Merger Doctrine: Dispelling the most common myth about copyright, https://sc-ip.in/2015/05/26/the-merger-doctrine-dispelling-the-most-common-myth-about-copyright/