April 16, 2021

Rights of Owner of a Copyright under Copyright Act



The principle of ‘ownership of copyrights’ would be the very first instance where the essence of a copyright begins, which is a statutory right, vested on the person who owns the copyright. A key variation should be clearly understood by the readers on the difference between ‘ownership’ and ‘authorship’ of copyrights, since both the terms sounds similar like ‘ownership’ and ‘possession’.

Section 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957 (hereinafter referred as ‘the principal Act’), has categorically mentioned and clarified the difference among the two terms which has laid down the essential conditions to acquire the position of ownership to whom the copyright belongs and has provided what constitutes the first ownership of the copyright. All the works that has been initiated and governed by a person would not constitute a right of ownership which has been made understood through a landmark judgment of  Eastern Book Co. v Navin J Desai[1] where an issue has been raised with regards to the ownership of copyright on Government works. The Court held that the reproduction of any order or judgment delivered by the Court or judicial authority would not make up an act of infringement and are open to the public to reproduce and publish the same.

Section 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957:  

The conditions that are ought to be specifically kept in mind while interpreting the state of ownership has been provided statutorily under Section 17 of the principal Act are discussed as follows –

  • For literary, dramatic or artistic works – The author who creates them would be the first owner;
  • Works performed under contractual service as an employment – ownership lies upon the employer;
  • In case of photographs shot for cinematographic films – ownership lies at whose instance it has been taken;
  • Works done under a value of consideration – ownership lies on the person who pays for such work;
  • For a speech delivered at public – ownership lies on who delivers such speech;
  • If a speech is made on behalf of another person – the person who assigned the work to deliver such speech would be the owner of the same;
  • Works published or orders passed by the Government or any organization – ownership lies on the Government or the organization which has published it.

Rights of the owner of a Copyright:

In order to exercise and enjoy the position of ownership of the copyrighted work, certain rights have been conferred to the owner in terms of morality and on monetary benefits by the copyright Act, 1957, and are also recognized by International conventions like TRIPS and Berne.

Economic rights of a Copyright Owner –

Any right that yields or payoffs the owner monetarily are said to be the economic rights. The economic right of the owner are been listed out in Section 14 of the principal Act, under the meaning of copyright.

Right to reproduce the work :

Reproduction is an act of copying from the previously finished works or giving it a differential form by adding, editing or modifying the same. In short in means the right to copy. Such right shall exclusively be exercised by the owner of the work and shall not be infringed by any other person since the act of reproduction of the work may economically make benefits to its owner. Be it a book which has been published or a compact disc that has been recorded and manufactured, right of reproduction of copyrighted works are the basis to protect a work from the act of exploitation. The concept of substantial and material copying has also been enclosed within the reproductive right. In regards to the violation of copyright of the owner, it is not necessary to copy the entire subject matter of the work to held responsible for such infringement and a part of the reproduction of a particular work would be enough for the infringement of the same.

Right to distribute in market :

Similar to the right of reproduction, the owner of the copyrighted work also has a right to distribute in the market and make money out of it. The act of distribution may be in the form of sale, lending for free or for a consideration, rental, or free distribution by the way of gift. The right of distribution differs from case to case and shall not be exercised in a similar manner at each instance. If the work that has been sold is a book, the rule of exhaustion shall be applied. Wherein the right to distribute the book will be exhausted and ceases to exist after the first sale of it and the buyer of the book will be further entitled to resale it as a second hand material. Whereas this condition is not the same in case if the owner of copyright set ups a library and charges rental fee to read the books available there and the law does not prohibit to do so also the rule of exhaustion will not come to play.

Right to communicate to the public :

It means letting or making the product/work available to the public by way of broadcasting, simulcasting or webcasting. If a person not being the owner of the work, communicates it to the public would amount to the act of infringement. In Indian performing right society Ltd. V Aditya Pandey, the Delhi High Court held that “the defendant is accordingly restrained from communicating any of such works to the public, or performing them, in the public, without such appropriate authorization, or licensing”.[2]

Right of adaptation :

Conversion, alteration, transcription or rearranging a copyrighted work means and includes the right of adaptation. These rights are exclusively available only to musical, literary or dramatical works and are not extended to the computer programmes. Although the right of adaptation are being protected by the statute, it is also been governed by the principles laid down under a classical case, by the Privy Counsel, in Macmillan and Company Ltd. V K. and J. Cooper[3]. The defendants were alleged on infringing the book published by the plaintiff and the nature of the book which was previously published by the Plaintiff was put to test and was figured out the  work was made out of a non – copyrighted source, such that the Plaintiffs book lacked its nature of originality and held that the defendants are not guilty of infringement. The principle employed here is that, although a work has been adapted from such source it must possess a quality of originality to an extent.

Right to translate :

The owner of the copyrighted work has a right to translate his work to any other languages he wants.

In Academy of General Edu., Manipal & ANR. Vs. B. Malini Mallya[4]petition was filed by the plaintiff, alleging on the use of his idea without authorization. The Court held that “mere adaption of an idea would not amount the act of infringement and there must be a substantial copy of work to attain the same.

Moral rights of a Copyright Owner:

A moral right would stand a step ahead of an economic right in which it is based on the dignity, uniqueness and the reputation that a work has gained and maintained. It has been well illustrated in the case of  Amarnath Sehgal v Union of India[5],the plaintiff’s masterpiece was damaged by the defendant by which it lost its aesthetic and market value. A mandatory injunction was passed by the court in addition of fine amount of 50 lacs as the cost of damage.

The moral rights of the copyright owner has been provided under Section 57 of the principal Act that encompasses three basic moral rights.

  1. Right of paternity;
  2. Right of integrity; and
  3. Right to retraction.

Right of paternity :

The right of an owner of copyright to claim and prevent others to claim the ownership of his copyrighted work is said to be a right of paternity.  Sholay Media Entertainment and Pvt. Ltd. V Parag M. Sanghavi[6], was a landmark judgement delivered on the Right of paternity of the copyright owner, where the court granted protection to the title of the movie which made the defendant to replace his’ movie title completely by refraining the use of the name which causes damage to the cult of the name “Sholay” since it was deceptively similar with the same.

Right of integrity :

The right of the owner of the copyright to protect the reputation of his own work from exploitation is the right of integrity. Sajeev Pillai v. Venu Kunnapalli & ors[7]., the respondent was alleged on the act of pre – release publicity of the movie which was yet to be released without ant authorized permission. The court granted relief to the aggrieved petitioner by restraining the respondent to carry on such act which damages the exclusiveness and reputation of the movie.

Right to retraction :

Retraction is an act of taking back the previous assertion made. The author at times may feel to give up his own right as an act of honoring the dignity of his work which sounds like assassinating ones own life for the sake of protecting the so far gained reputation. The principal Act, under section 57 grants the author the right to withdraw from the publication of his work. In simple terms it means waiving of his granted rights for the sake of protection of reputation or integrity. In Amarnath Sehgal v Union of India[8], the court pointed out the right to retraction as to withdraw ones own publication if the author feels the condition of his work is derogatory in nature and are advisable to do the withdrawal of the same. This would be the author’s right to retraction.

Conclusion :

Hereby, it is to be concluded that the above made discussion on the concept of ownership of copyrights positively implies the position of Indian legislature and the judiciary in making and interpreting the laws respectively to its finest possible form. The rights conferred under the provisions has spelled out the significance and importance given to acquire the title of ownership, especially by way of honoring the efforts given in by an artist at various facets of his career in order to produce valuable outcome and their rights are been protected both under the economic and moral aspect. One highly notable and appreciable provision that shall be regarded astonishing is the right of retraction which has been conferred to the owner of the copyrighted work to safeguard the dignity that he has gained through his work. Further the addition of precise provisions through the copyright Amendment Act has comforted and eased off the hurdles faced by the performers and broadcasters.

Bibliography :

  1. The copyright Act, 1957
  2. Law relating to Intellectual Property, 2nd ed. By Sreenivasulu NS, Lexis Nexis, 2020
  3. https://www.intepat.com/blog/copyright/5-copyright-cases-2019-india/
  4. https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/moral-rights-author/
  5. www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3029-introduction-to-copyright-act.html

[1] AIR 2001 (58) DRJ 103

[2] 2011 Del

[3] 1924  26 BOMLR 292

[4] [2009] INSC 131

[5] 2005 (30) PTC 253 (Del)

[6] 223 (2015) DLT 152, MIPR 2015 (3) 0096

[7] 2019 – KERHC

[8] 2005 (30) PTC 253 (Del)

Author Details: Rizwana Yasmeen N [Student, School of Law – VISTAS, Vels Institute Of Science Technology and Advanced Studies]


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