Instruction Manuals and Copyright

Law relating to copyright is governed by the Copyright Act, 1957. Copyright is generally granted for artistic, musical and dramatic works and thereby includes computer programme, performer’s rights, sound recordings, chorographical works and cinematographic works. It is the protection granted to the expression of ideas. Such kind of protection enables the original authors, writers, directors, composers, designers and others covered under copyright to retain their originality and also encourages many others to create or work upon their ideas. Copyright being one among the other intangible rights protected under law does not entirely create a monopoly and restrict the distribution of the works. It, however grants protection to the original copyright owner over others in case of piracy or duplicity.

Now a question arises as to whether instruction manuals are copyrightable? To answer this question we must first understand what all things are included under literary work. Section 2 (o) of the Copyright Act defines β€˜literary work’ and it includes β€œcomputer programmes, tables, compilations including computer databases.”1The work to avail copyright protection must be original and creative/ unique. Further a matter to be considered as copyrightable must be expressed in print or writing or in the form of some symbols or notations. In the case of ** Exxon Corp v. Exxon Insurance International Ltd ** 2 ** . ** it was observed that β€œa literary work is something that provides information or instructions or pleasure in the form of literary enjoyment.

Indian Copyright laws have been amended a couple of times to bring it at par with the International treaties whether in area of technology or satellite broadcasting. Present laws are not just confined to the traditional meaning of copyright covering literature works or dramatic plays. It also extends to other works which involves a creative element.

Even at the international level the earlier approach was restrictive, but it was eventually overturned by appeals or through fresh trials. One such example is the case of * Situation Management Systems v. ASP Consulting LLC.* 3 ** , ** wherein SMS filed a suit against the latter for using the former’s training manuals which were created for effective negotiation and communication with the employees. The trial court threw the case out but the Circuit of Appeals broadened the scope of copyright thus including the manuals under the ambit of copyright. Here, the court came to the conclusion by analyzing the requirements of originality and idea/ expression dichotomy. When it comes to originality, even though it is not explicit, one cannot deny that the graphs, diagrams, the way of expressing the instructions did not involve originality or creativity. It did have these elements and thereby the instruction manuals come under the ambit of β€˜literature’ for the purposes of copyright.

In India the instruction manuals can avail copyright protection because it involves considerable amount of skills, labor and judgment.

Instruction manuals are more or less technical and bound to have some or the other similarities. In the famous case of ** R.G Anand v. M/S Delux Films **4, it was observed that when similarities are bound to happen, it is necessary to find out whether such similarities are substantial in nature or not. If it is substantially the same then the infringement suit will lie against the respondents. So, it is really tough for instruction manuals to avail the protection. However, if it meets the creativity and originality standard it can surely avail the copyright protection.


The copyright laws in India are strong and broad enough to cover not only the traditional areas but also the non- conventional spectrum. With the ever- increasing modern day challenges, the laws also must be equipped to resolve the issues.

Generally, when one goes through manuals or handbooks people do not think that it is copyrightable and tends to copy it unintentionally. But, one must be really careful while copying. Even though with the fair use exception there are pretty high chances of getting involved in a copyright issue.

In India there are little to no cases of copyright infringement in relation to instruction manuals or handbooks, although we can expect that in future with the advancement of law and awareness about it, there can be issues. Thereby, it is beneficial to be prepared to face the hurdles well in advance.

  1. Copyright Act, 1957, S. 2(o), No. 14, Act of Parliament (1957) India.Β 

  2. (1982 RPC 69).Β 

  3. 90 USPQ 2d 1095.Β 

  4. 1978 AIR 1613.Β 

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