January 23, 2022

Assignment and Licensing of Copyrights under Copyrights Act

intellectual property rights


IP is an intellectual work which is produced by intellectual human brain. For e.g. literary work, musical work, inventions, etc. it is an intangible property. It is described as property because it is capable of sale, purchase, mortgage, etc. the owner if IP has rights over his intangible property. No one can make use of IP without the consent of the owner. IP is made to protect their rights and the infringement.

Copyright is a protection given to the creators of certain types of works as an acknowledgment to their intellectual input[1]. The objective of copyright has always been the protection of the interest of a creator, coupled with dissemination of knowledge. Though this protection started with the recognition of rights of authors in their books, but modern technology has substantially changed the nature of work and its mode of exploitation.

Economic rights allow an owner to reap economic benefits from his intellectual creations. According to section 14 of the Copyright Act, 1957, different rights are recognised with respect to the nature of the work. As per this section, it is the exclusive right of the owner to do or authorise the doing of the acts provided thereunder.

Today copyright includes a variety of industries like: the information industry and the entertainment industry and industrial design.

Assignment of Copyrights: Section 18 of Copyrights Act

The owner of the copyright of a work has the right to assign his copyright to any other person. The effect of assignment is that the assignee becomes entitled to all the rights related to the copyright to the assigned work.[2] However, mere grant of right to publish and sell the copyrighted work amounts to publishing right and not assignment of copyright.

Where the assignee of a copyright becomes entitled to any right comprised in the copyright, he shall be treated as the owner of the copyright in respect of those rights. The assignor shall also be treated as the owner of copyright with respect to unassigned rights. The legal representatives of the assignee shall be entitled to the benefits of assignment, if the assignee dies before the work comes into existence.

In Video Master v. Nishi Production[3], the Bombay High Court considered the issue whether assignment of video rights would include the right of satellite broadcast as well. The Court agreed with the contentions of defendant that there were different modes of communication to the public such as terrestrial television broadcasting (Doordarshan), satellite broadcasting and video TV. The owner of the film had separate copyright in all those modes, and he could assign it to different persons. Thus, satellite broadcast copyright of film was a separate right of the owner of the film and the video copyright assigned to the plaintiff would not include this.

Mode of Assignment: Section 18 of Copyrights Act

As per section 19, assignment of copyright is valid only if it is in writing and signed by the assignor or his duly authorized agent. The assignment of a copyright in a work should identify the work and specify kind of rights assigned and the duration and territorial extent of such assignment. Further, it should specify the amount of royalty payable, if any, to the author or his legal heirs during the continuance of assignment and the assignment will be subject to revision, extension or termination on terms mutually agreed upon by the parties.

If the period of assignment is not mentioned it will be deemed to be taken as five years from the date of assignment. If the territorial extent of such assignment is not stipulated, it will be taken as applicable in whole of India.

Also, Section 19(8) contemplates that the assignment of copyright work against the terms and conditions on which rights have been assigned to a particular copyright society where the author of the work is a member shall be void. Further, Section 19(9) and section 19(10) opine that the assignment of copyright for making cinematograph film or sound recording shall not affect the right of the author to claim an equal share of the royalties and consideration payable with respect to use of his protected work.

In Saregama India Ltd v. Suresh Jindal[4], it was held that the owner of the copyright in a future work may assign the copyright to any person either wholly or partially for the whole of the copyright or any part thereof and once the assignment is made the assignee for the purpose of this Act is treated as the owner of the copyright.

Licensing of Copyright

The owner of copyright may grant a license to do any of the act in respect of which he has an exclusive right to do. The license can be classified into following categories:

Voluntary license: : Section 18 of Copyrights Act

The author or the copyright owner has exclusive rights in his creative work and he alone has right to grant license with respect to such work. According to section 30 of the Copyright Act 1957, the owner of the copyright in a work may grant any interest in his copyright to any person by license in writing, which is to be signed by him or by his duly authorised agent. A license can be granted not only in existing work but also in respect of the future work, in this situation assignment shall come into force when such future work comes into existence. Where a licensee of the copyright in a future work dies before such work comes into existence, his legal representatives shall be entitled to the benefit of the license if there is no provision to contrary.

The mode of license is like an assignment deed, with necessary adaptations and modifications in section 19 (section 30A). Therefore, like an assignment, a license deed in relation to a work should comprise of following particulars:

  1. Duration of license
  2. The rights which have been licensed
  3. Territorial extent of the licensed
  4. The quantum of royalty payable
  5. Terms regarding revision
  6. Extension and termination

Voluntary licenses can be:

Exclusive – The term exclusive license has been defined in Section 2(j) as a license which confers on the licensee and persons authorized by him, to the exclusion of all other persons, any right comprised in the copyright work.

Non-exclusive – It does not confer right of exclusion. It is mere grant of an authority to do a particular thing which otherwise would have constituted an infringement. When owner grants an exclusive right, he denudes himself of all rights and retains no claim on the economic rights so transferred.

Co-exclusive – Here the licensor grants a license to more than one licensee but agrees that it will only grant licences to a limited group of other licensees.

Sole license – Where only the licensor and the licensee can use it to the exclusion of any other third party.

Implied license – Author impliedly allows or permits the use of his work. For example, he had knowledge that someone is using his work but he did not take any action.

Compulsory Licenses

 Compulsory and statutory licenses can impact both the identity of the licensee who the owner chooses to deal with and the terms, including rates of royalty, that the owner may stipulate for such dealing. Viewed from this perspective, compulsory licenses are less of an infraction on owner autonomy, on both these counts. The owner does retain a fair bit of autonomy to enter into appropriate licensing arrangements with those who he may deem fit, and he is also permitted to negotiate on the terms of the license within the zone of reasonableness. Normally, it is an unreasonable refusal to deal with a person that gives rise to a compulsory license. This brings us to the third important distinction between a compulsory and statutory license. The former is always granted upon specific application by an individual to the competent authority. The latter, on the other hand, is a blanket fixation of rates of royalty by the authority and a grant of standardised licenses to all those who are interested in availing the same. The owner, as a necessary corollary, has no autonomy on the identity of those who obtain the license, or what they pay as royalty for the same.

 Categories of Compulsory Licenses

There are five main categories of compulsory licenses currently operating in India.

 These are:

1. Licenses in respect of works unreasonably withheld from the public;

 2. Licenses in respect of orphan works;

 3. Licenses in respect of works for the differently abled;

 4. Licenses in respect of translations;

5. Licenses in respect of reproduction and sale of works unavailable in India.

Statutory Licenses

 As seen from the above discussion of compulsory licenses, such licenses can be understood as a particularised expropriation of owner autonomy in respect of the copyrighted work. The need for such expropriation arises only upon acts or inaction on the part of the owner that render the work unavailable to the public or differently abled persons. Statutory licenses, on the other hand, do not require any examination into the conduct of the owner. It attempts a wholesale expropriation of owner autonomy, once the work fits within the broader class of works that can be so licensed.

There are two such categories of statutory licenses, namely cover version recording licenses (Section 31C) and broadcasting licenses (Section 31D).

 The first has existed, though as part of the fair dealing exceptions in Section 52, from the very beginning. The second is a very recent addition to the Act vide the 2012 amendment.


The term ‘assignment’ and ‘license’ are not interchangeable. An assignment is different from a license. Generally, in absence of any provision to the contrary the assignee becomes the owner of the assigned work, whereas in case of a license the licensee gets the right to exercise particular rights only.

An assignment may be general, i.e. without limitation or an assignment may be subject to limitations. It may be for the whole term of copyright or any part thereof. An assignment transfers an interest in and deals with copyright itself as provided under section 14 of the Act, but license does not convey the copyright but only grants a right to do something, which in absence of license would be unlawful. An assignment transfers title in copyright, a license merely permits certain things to be done by licensee. The assignee being invested with the title in the copyright may reassign[5].

[1] This is known as the ‘Doctrine of Sweat of the Brow’, whereby a work is given copyright protection if the author has applied ‘labour, skill or judgment’ in creating the work irrespective of the level of originality in the work. Evolved from the decision in Ladbroke v William Hill, [1964] 1 All E.R. 465.

[2] Section 18(2); Copyright Act, 1957.

[3] 23 IPLR 388 (1998).

[4] 2007 (34) PTC 522 (Cal).

[5] Deshmukh & co (publishers) pvt ltd v/s avinash vishnu khadekar 2006 (32) PTC 358 (Bom)

Author Name: Muskaan Mathur [Student, Savitribai Phule, Pune University (SPPU)]

Law Library LawBhoomi

Leave a Reply