Copyright infringement: What’s it all about?

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Three individuals combined their resources and efforts and co-authored English grammar books which were used in several known colleges as reading material for their English curriculum. The authors obtained a certificate of copyright registration for their published works.

In the course of revising their books, the co-authors went to several bookstores to check other textbooks dealing with the same subject matter. One of the books they stumbled across was an English book “strikingly similar to the contents, scheme of presentation, illustrations, and illustrative examples in their own book.” After an itemized examination and comparison of the two books, the authors found several pages similar, but more importantly, realized that their book had been copied in its entirety.

Upon discovery, the co-authors wrote the author and distributor of the infringed book, demanding that they stop selling and distributing it to the general public. The author of the infringed book ignored the demands, insisting that her book was a by-product of her own independent research and was not copied from the co-authors book. Thus, a case for infringement and/or unfair competition with damages was filed against her. In her answer, the author of the infringed book claimed that any similarity in both books was due to her “exercise of the right to fair use of copyrighted materials, as guides” since the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Sciences (APCAS) recommends the scope and syllabus of common English grammar writers.

The Regional Trial Court, affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA), dismissed the complaint for infringement noting that “similarity of the allegedly infringed work to the author’s or proprietor’s copyrighted work does not of itself establish copyright infringement, especially if the similarity results from the fact that both works deal with the same subject or have the same common source, as in this case.”


The Supreme Court, however, overturned the CA, finding that infringement was evident just by comparing both English books. While it is correct to say grammar books may contain materials similar as to some technical contents with other grammar books, the Court found numerous pages obviously showing similarity in the style and the manner the book, not to mention identical examples and material contents, which could not be based on the syllabus given by APCAS.

The Court explained what constitutes infringement-

In determining the question of infringement, the amount of matter copied from the copyrighted work is an important consideration. To constitute infringement, it is not necessary that the whole, or even a large portion of the work shall have been copied. If so much is taken that the value of the original is sensibly diminished, or the labors of the original author are substantially and to an injurious extent appropriated by another, that is sufficient in point of law to constitute piracy.

In cases of infringement, copying alone is not what is prohibited. The copying must produce an “injurious effect.” Here, the injury consists in that respondent Robles lifted from petitioners’ book materials that were the result of the latter’s research work and compilation and misrepresented them as her own. She circulated the book DEP for commercial use and did not acknowledge petitioners as her source.

Ruling that substantial portions of the book were copied, the Court held that the infringed book should have properly cited its sources. Hence, work that is copied without a proper attribution to its source constitutes an injury to the original author, amounting to an infringement of the co-authors’ copyright (Habana v. Robles, G.R. No. 131522, 19 July 1999, J. Pardo).

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