Copyright on "Fonts"

Views of Mr Praveen Dalal,*   practicing High Court Advocate from Delhi specializing in Cyber Laws,  IPR Laws, and Corporate Laws.




 The copyright law protects the intellectual creations in original literary and artistic works. The copyright protection commences as soon as the work is created and it does not require any registration formalities. Traditionally the concern of copyright law was limited to books, music, paintings or films. Copyright protection has now taken new dimensions and today it extends to even computer software and compilations of data. Copyright has some closely related rights that confer similar principles of protection. These are known as “related rights” or “neighbouring rights”. These rights protect persons, other than the creators, who are involved in the dissemination of copyrighted work. These rights are confined to three specific categories of persons: performers, producers of phonograms and broadcasting organizations. In some countries such rights may be a part of the copyright law,[1]while in others there is different legislation to protect these rights. The Berne Convention for the protection of Literary and Artistic works, as revised up to 1971, provided the highest level of international legal protection for copyright, prior to TRIPS. With the conclusion of TRIPS under the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, protection of copyright and related rights became, for the first time, a subject covered by the international trade law. Articles 9 to 13 of TRIPS prescribe the “minimum standards” for the protection of copyright. Article 9.1 of TRIPS establishes that WTO members must comply with Articles 1 to 21 of the Berne Convention, 1971, including the Appendix thereto. The Berne Convention requires that the enjoyment and exercise of copyright cannot be subjected to any formality such as registration. The only exception to adherence to the Berne Convention is Article 6bis, which obliges the members to protect the moral rights of the authors. Article 9(2) of the Berne Convention contains exceptions to the exclusive right of reproduction conferred by the copyright law. The pre-requisites for the applicability of this Article are:

(a) These limitations and exceptions should be granted in certain special cases,

(b) These should not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work, and

(c) These should not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.

In the context of copyright, TRIPS does not confine this Berne exception only to the right of reproduction but extends it to all exclusive rights conferred by copyright[2].

 Copyright in Fonts 

The claim of copyright in “Fonts” has to be analysed form the point of view of both the Constitution of India and the Copyright Act, 1957. 

(1) Constitutional discourse 

The right to impart and receive information is a species of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India. A citizen has a Fundamental Right to use the best means of imparting and receiving information. The State is not only under an obligation to respect the Fundamental Rights of the citizens, but also equally under an obligation to ensure conditions under which the Right can be meaningfully and effectively be enjoyed by one and all. Freedom of speech and expression is basic to and indivisible from a democratic polity. One of the most important components of freedom of speech and expression is the free and unhindered use of the appropriate language. A society cannot effectively communicate if a restriction or sanction is imposed on it in any manner whatsoever. This discussion becomes relevant in the background of the controversial attempt to claim copyright in the “Fonts” of Kannadan language, which is a language used by over 50 million people in India and is officially recognized by the Constitution of India. A copyright in fonts would confer an indirect copyright in the language itself, which cannot be justified in any circumstances. Such a claim would definitely be violative of Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

It must be noted that Article 21 of the Constitution of India confers a “right to know” on all persons. In R.P.Limited v Indian Express Newspapers[3] the Supreme Court read into Article 21 the right to know. The Supreme Court held that right to know is a necessary ingredient of participatory democracy. The ambit and scope of Article 21 is much wider as compared to Article 19(1)(a). Thus, any attempt to curb the right to know, whether directly or indirectly, would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. If a copyright were granted in respect of “fonts”, then right to know would definitely be violated because then knowledge cannot be shared and distributed among masses. 

(2) Statutory discourse 

The argument against granting or claim of copyright in “fonts” also finds support from the basic philosophy and ideology of the Copyright Act, 1957. The following points has to be considered before copyright in “fonts” can be granted: 

(1)   Whether the “fonts” in controversy fulfill the requirements of section 13(1) (a) of the Copyright Act, 1957? This section requires that copyright shall, subject to provisions of this section and other provisions of the Act, subsist in original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. It is submitted that “fonts”, of the present nature, do not satisfy the requirements of section 13(1) (a) of the Act. The Kannada language has been in use from a long time and is recognized as one of the language under the Constitution of India. The moment it is recognized by the Constitution, the base of all the laws, it ceases to be a private right and becomes a public property. In such language no person can claim a copyright since it cannot be considered as original work, as the work already exists in the public domain. Merely because certain fonts have been added cannot convert it into a private property. It must be noted that what cannot be done directly should not be achieved indirectly. Since no person can claim a copyright in language, hence the same cannot be granted in the form of “fonts”, which is nothing else but an indirect copyright in the language. 

(2)   The copyright in “fonts’ can be claimed within the strict parameters of the Act only. Thus, if the concerned work does not satisfy the requirements of the Act, then no copyright can be claimed in the concerned work[4]. As discussed above, the work in question do not fulfill the essential requirement necessary for the grant of copyright. It must be noted that although no registration formalities are required for the acquisition of copyright, but certain minimum requirements are inevitably required to be complied with. These requirements are expressly provided in the Act, and no copyright can be claimed in derogation if them.

(3)   The first owner of the copyright has to be found according to the provisions of section 17 of the Act, before any claim for copyright of “fonts” is accepted. If a person claims a copyright, which is primarily and literally based on another’s copyright, then the former cannot claim that his copyright is violated if a third party uses that common material. As discussed above, when the language is a “public property”, then no person can claim an exclusive right over it.

(4)   Even assuming for the sake of argument that the fonts in question are fit for the grant of copyright, still the same can be used in the given peculiar facts and circumstances of the case by virtue of section 52 of the Act. Further, even after the grant of copyright, a compulsory licence can be granted in case of misuse of the same. 


The object of Copyright Act, 1957 is to protect intellectual creations of the concerned persons on the one hand and to maintain a balance between the public interest and the rights of that person on the other hand. The concept of public interest is given a paramount importance in our constitutional scheme, which is a mandate of a welfare State like India. The ultimate fate of the claim of copyright in “fonts” depends upon that fact whether it satisfy the requirements of both the Constitution of India and the Copyright Act, 1957. Even if the copyright is claimed or granted in this situation, the same can be challenged, perhaps successfully, in the given facts and circumstances.


7/6/04 12:54:14 PM

* Advocate, Delhi High Court.

LL.B, Diploma in Internet, Cyberlaw &Other Related Laws (ILI), Pursuing LL.M from Law Faculty, Delhi University.

Contact at:

[1] For instance, in countries like US or India, copyright law covers the rights of producers of phonograms.

[2] Dalal Praveen, The glimpses of copyright law in India (Under publication)

[3] AIR 1989 SC 190.

[4]  Section 16.

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