Copyrights are meant to protect the ownership rights of people who develop new concepts or products. It also seeks to encourage people to be more creative and innovate.
Merger doctrine falls under the umbrella of the Copyright Law but it is not the only law under which this principle is applied. Another name for the Merger Doctrine is ‘Doctrine of Merger’.
What is the Merger Doctrine?
The Merger Doctrine is one of the principles in copyright law. It suggests that when there is only one way or a limited number of ways in which an idea can be expressed, the expression will not be protected by the copyright law. The given expression will be said to have ‘merged’ with the idea. We say an expression and an idea have merged when the idea and the expression are almost impossible to separate.
The first instance which led to this rationale occurred in the year 1880. It was the case between two people, referenced as Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (U.S.1880). Even at the time of handling this case, the term ‘Merger Doctrine’ had not been implemented yet. This was used as a precedent for judgment later in 1967 on a case referenced as Morrissey v. Procter & Gamble Co., 379 F. 2d 675 (1st Cir. Mass. 1967). It was after its application on this case that it came to be known as the Merger Doctrine.
The Merger Doctrine applies to the law of real property too. It proposes that any contract for the conveyance of property must merge into the deed of conveyance. In other words, if any guarantees or promises are made in the contract of conveyance but do not reflect in or comply with the deed of conveyance, those guarantees or promises shall be considered as extinguished after the deed is conveyed to the buyer.
The term ‘Merger Doctrine’ is used in the Law of Trusts. With regards to the Law of Trusts, merger doctrine is used as reference in the events where there is a fusion of legal and equitable title, that is; a person becomes both the sole beneficiary and the sole trustee to a trust. In these cases, the trust is considered terminated since the beneficiary becomes the sole owner of the trust property.
An example is when a child – whose father has opened a trust account for him – dies and the next beneficiary on the trust account is the father himself. In this case, the father has become the sole or outright beneficiary as well as trustee to the account.
Also, the Merger Doctrine was formerly or historically used in the family law. It was of the proposition that as soon as a woman got married to a man, her legal identity merged with the identity of her husband. Since they are of one identity, the courts regard them as one and so the woman could not sue her husband or press charges against him any more than he could ordinarily sue himself. It’s no longer in use.
The doctrine is also used in the cases of litigation. When litigants agree on a settlement and they seek to have the settlement merged into a court order, the court can extinguish the settlement and impose its own authority so that they can supervise the behavior of the parties. The court has the mandate to modify its order so as to ensure justice in the case. Any party that may hitherto breach the agreement shall be found guilty of contempt.