Artistic works under Copyright Law in India

Copyright is a legal right that protects the interests of creators of original works. One such category of works is “artistic works”. The term “artistic works” brings to mind the paintings and murals of the likes of Van Gogh and Michelangelo. However, to qualify as an “artistic work”, a work need not possess a high level of artistic quality. A work can be an “artistic work” even if it has de minimis artistic quality. However, the work must be “original”. In other words, the work must have been created by an original expression of thought. The expression in the work should be the result of application of skill and judgement on the part of the artist creating the work, that is, the artist must have applied more than some mere mechanical exercise in order to create the work.

Consider a situation wherein a company has a logo that is a bird or an animal. Can such bird or animal qualify as an artistic work? Or would copyright protection be denied because the bird or animal is a creation of nature on which no single party can have exclusive rights. The short answer is “yes,” as long as the logo, that is a rendering of a bird or an animal, was created by application of some skill and judgement on the part of the artist. Since a creation of nature can be expressed in innumerable forms, a depiction by an artist, applying his skill and judgement, would be unique to the artist, and thus, capable of copyright protection.

Courts in India have time and again recognized that creations of nature can be protected as copyrighted artistic works. For instance, the famous Panda logo of the World Wildlife Federation and the Crocodile logo of the famous French clothing brand, Lacoste, have been recognised as protected artistic works by the Delhi High Court.

The requirement of originality, therefore, would not bar a copyright in an artistic work such as a painting or a drawing embodying a creation of nature, such as an animal or a bird, because the originality of the work would be judged on the basis of the manner in which such a creation of nature is depicted and not the idea of the creation of nature itself.