April 15, 2011

Writers ought to be aware of the rules regarding copyright infringement. Here’s something about copyright infringement and plagiarism as explained by the Supreme Court in the case of Habana v. Robles (July 19, 1999 GR 131522).

Petitioners are authors and copyright holders of books on the English language (College English for Today—Book 1 and 2, and Workbook for College Freshman English). They were revising their books and were scouting for other books of similar subject matter when they chanced upon the books of Respondents published by Goodwill Trading Co. Inc. (Developing English Proficiency—Books 1 and 2). Upon further perusal they discovered that the content of said books was very much similar to theirs, and in fact several pages were even identical. Some illustrative examples were exactly the same. However, while herein Petitioners researched on said examples by foreign authors and made due acknowledgement, Respondents made use of the same and never cited the authors. They did not even cite the Petitioners as the first to use said example.

Petitioners tried to settle the matter extra-judicially by asking Respondents to cease and desist from selling and distributing the books and by claiming for damages due to lost profit. But said demands were ignored. So they filed action for Infringement and or/ Unfair Competition with damages before the RTC against Respondents and Goodwill.

The trial court ruled in favor of Respondents and dismissed the claim against Goodwill. It subscribed to the arguments of Respondents that there was no plagiarism resulting to Infringement because the examples were by foreign authors and for educational purposes subject to fair use. It also agreed with Respondents that the similarities were brought about by the fact that the books dealt with the same subject matter and adhered to the same presentation format prescribed by the Philippine Colleges of Arts and Sciences (APCAS). Goodwill was also said to be absolved because it was not privy to the plagiarism and in their contract with Respondents, there was a guaranty that the work was original and the publisher will not be liable in case Infringement claims. The trial court also subscribed to the notion of Respondents that Petitioner was motivated by bad faith in filing the case due to professional jealousy. This is because the assailed books replaced Petitioner’s as official textbook of the FEU Graduate Studies Department.

Petitioners appealed before the CA. But just the same, the appellate court ruled in favor of Respondents opining that the topics said to be plagiarized were also topics or matters also found in earlier books on college English, even including foreign books. But it ruled that Petitioners were not in bad faith in filing the claim. Hence Petitioners filed for Review on Certiorari (Rule 45) before the SC.

The issues in this case are twofold:

  1. Is there copyright infringement given that the books dealt with the same subject and subscribed to the same presentation format, and only some parts were similar and identical?
  2. Is the defense of fair use tenable?

The Court rules:

  1. Yes, there is plagiarism resulting to copyright infringement in this case. Under RA 8293 copyright holders have copy or economic rights including the exclusive right to carry out, authorize or prevent reproduction of the whole work or even just a substantial portion of it. One limitation to this right is that quotations of a copyrighted work may be included in other publication when compatible with the Fair Use Doctrine (i. e. by way of illustration for teaching purposes) as long as the author is cited as source. In this case, even if the books dealt with the same subject and subscribed to the same format, and even if only some parts were similar and identical, there is still infringement. It need not be a reproduction of the entire work, or even a large portion of it. If so much is taken that the value of the original work is substantially diminished or the labors of the original author are substantially and to an injurious extent appropriated, there is infringement. In this case, not only the discussions were lifted, but also the examples. And this was done without due acknowledgement to Petitioners.
  2. Fair Use cannot be a defense in this case. True, both Petitioners and Respondents used works by foreign authors as illustrative examples for educational purposes. But Petitioners cited or acknowledged the authors, Respondents did not. Petitioners labored to do research to find the best examples and gave citations for it. Respondents copied the same and did not at least acknowledge Petitioners or even the foreign authors of said examples. There must be citations.

There you go. And also if you are accused of copyright infringement and plagiarism and you think you have a good defense, do not withdraw the subject publications from the bookstores. The act could be used against you as ‘indica’ of guilt as the High Court ruled in this case



  1. hagbayon said

    Copyright laws are cool 🙂

  2. hagbayon said

    Hmmmm…. Plagiarism is a big issue again these days.

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