Copyrights vested in information of Clients and/or Customer Lists maintained by service providers has been an issue of disparity for the past several years. The High Court of Delhi, in Navigators Logistics Limited vs Kashif Qureshi and Ors., on September 17, 2018, has once again attempted to bring some clarity to the prolonging confusion.

The Plaintiffs alleged that, the defendants had misappropriated copyrighted material and confidential company information which was in direct violation of their employment contracts. Such copyrighted material included client database, confidential data, accounts related information, plans, reports, airway bills templates and the likes. However, upon investigation it was found that the records misappropriated only included Client lists and contact information. As per the facts of the case, all employees resigned from the Plaintiff firm one after another. The plaintiff contended that such material comprised of original and artistic literary works as defined in Section 2(c) and Section 2(o) of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The Court referred to an earlier judgment of Tech Plus Media Private Ltd vs. Jyoti Janda, 2014 wherein it was held that, the key to establishing whether a copyright claim exists is to examine the degree of skill or judgment that has been invested into the creating the said material. The gist of the judgment stated that, when the output is merely a result of labour, such material lacks the use of any skill or creativity and thus is not copyrightable in nature. In order for a material to be copyrightable, it must have to satisfy the standard of creativity required. A mere compilation of existing information by arranging it in a sequence manner does not require creativity and thus cannot be held copyrightable.

In the present case, the Plaintiff had claimed copyright over lists which consisted of names and contact information of the Clients of the company, however, it was observed by the Court that such information was easily available in the public domain and thus cannot qualify as a confidential list. Further, the Court criticized the ex-parte interim order passed in favour of the Plaintiffs in 2016, restraining the Defendants from using the 'confidential information' for any reason whatsoever. Another ground put forth by the plaintiff was that the defendants had violated the employment contract clause which prohibited them from working in a competitive industry for a period of one year after they resigned from the plaintiff company. However, the Court held that such a clause was a clear violation of Section 27 of the Indian Contract Act, which states that any contract restraining trade is void ab initio. The suit was thus, dismissed and the Court held that the Plaintiffs had no cause of action.

Compiled by: Adv. Sachi Kapoor | Concept & Edited by: Dr. Mohan Dewan

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