In a recent case* concerning violation of copyright by an ex employee who started a competing business, the Delhi High Court ruled that for compilation of data to be protected by copyright, it must be demonstrated that the creator not only exercised labour and capital, but also skill and judgment such that it is not a mechanical exercise.
The Plaintiff was running a print media publication and an online news portal in the field of Information Technology. Over the course of running the media publication and website, it had collected a database of customers and their contact details, as well as "entities which could be targeted for subscription" later. The Plaintiff contended that the database also contained details of comments made by visitors, including IP addresses, etc. The Plaintiff claimed that this collection of data amounted to an original expression of thoughts of the Plaintiff and preparing the database involved "immense original skill, thought process [and] imagination".
The Defendant was a former Management Executive at the Plaintiff Company, and had been given access to the database as part of the Defendant's job. The Plaintiff filed the present suit when they found that the Defendant had started their own news website offering similar services, at a lower price.
The Court after hearing the parties took the view that there are no specific pleadings on existence of copyright in database. The database of Plaintiff is "nothing but a collection of the e-mail addresses of the visitors to the website/news portal of the plaintiff." The Court noted that this case was an exercise to harass a former employee that had started an enterprise that rivalled that of the Plaintiff. The Court therefore proceeded to dismiss the case at the preliminary stage.