Copyright of Software and its Screen Display

February 14, 2020
Copyright laws protect

By Lucy Rana and Meril Mathew Joy

Copyright laws protect the creative capacity of a person and has an array of protections and rights that extend over any original work and is accredited to the creator, also known as the copyright holder or the owner of the work. A curious copyrightable content is the software coding, which is a computer based interactive language that is read by a computer and is expressed in a manner specific to the codes involved. A software can also be read in a manner by the computer that it can further be able to create new and original works. So who owns a copyright over such resulting work? Are the resulting works copyrightable? These are the questions that can help assess the matter of copyright in a work arising out of a software application.


Software Copyright is protection granted the source codes and/ or object code which enables a computer to perform a specific task. As copyright protects the original work, therefore any software which is original creation of the programmer, is eligible for Copyright protection. Further, in case of copyright registration made in India, the screen display (result content) generated by the program is also covered under the copyright registration, provided that the computer program (code) generating the screen display is submitted by the applicant with the Copyright application. In such case, the result is protected along with the software, however no separate Copyright exists in the result page per se. In order to make the understanding simple and specific, let us understand the concept under below questions:

Is it Possible to claim copyright protection over the result page/ display created by the Software, separately?

Yes, where the result page can be termed as original work and is acceptable as a copyrightable work under either Literary, Artistic, Musical, Sound Recording or Cinematograph Film category, the such result page/ display/ output can be identified as separate copyright content.

What is acceptable as separate copyright content?

Any original content or compilation or any work, which can be acceptable under a specific category (i.e. Literary, Artistic, Musical, Sound Recording or Cinematograph Film), can be termed as acceptable copyright content. When copyrightability of the work is to be determined the test of skill, labour and judgement is looked into to check minimum creativity and originality of the work. In view thereof, if the result work of software does not created any original work, then a separate copyright protection does not exist for such result page.

Some examples to explain the concept?

Example of Microsoft Office and its tools are the best examples in this regard. The software creating the Microsoft Word, will be protected as software work. Further as per the practice in India, the result page of Microsoft word can also be registered with the software. However, the result page (screen display of Microsoft Word) may not be acceptable as a separate work, as there is no original creation or expression involved in the screen display. The screen display is basically a result of the software creating the page and therefore, no separate copyright exists on the screen display but can be protected together with the software.

Whereas in case of audit software, wherein the software is created with specific input/ filters, to create the audit report, then in such case the report generated using the software will be separately copyright protected, even though it is derived using the software. The audit software is copyrightable software work whereas the report generated is a separate copyrightable compilation protectable under the Literary works.

When result will not have independent copyright against the software?

It is pertinent to note that if the result page is mere listing of names on the basis of filters/ parameters used in the software, then unless the result page has substantial originality or skill and judgment involved, the result page will not be copyright able. For example, where a software is generating rank list of cricketers based on parameters such as performance in last 10 matches, pitch performance, managing spinners, managing pacers, strike rate on all pitch types, etc. then in such case, the software will be copyright protected, however, the result page will not bear any separate copyright as the result is dependent on the parameters/ filters used on the software and cannot be separated from the software to have independent copyright value.

In light of the above, it can be concluded that where the result page of the software will not be separately copyrightable, if the result page:

  1. Cannot be categorized under any of recognized categories, i.e. Literary, Artistic, Musical, Sound Recording or Cinematograph Film. and
  2. Is derived and dependent on the software to substantiate the validity of the copyright.

Therefore, for all purpose of claiming copyright, it is important to understand that Copyright can extend only to the works which is not merely an idea but has its own identified expression and also not dependent on any other work. Where the work in question is an extension of another work and is also dependent on the earlier work for its validity, then such work cannot be copyright protected separately, however, the said work can be protected together with the other work to which it owes its validity.

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