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A copyright, simply stated, is the right to not get your work copied. As there is a registry for a house or a car, copyright is for artistic works. This article deals with the importance, along with the rights conferred with the holder. It further explains copyright infringement, registration of copyright and some important case laws.

Creators of literary and artistic works are conferred with some rights, known as author's rights or copyrights. A copyright covers a wide array of works that constitutes, paintings, advertisements, sculptures, films, books, movies etc. Computer programs, technical drawings, maps and databases also fall under the realm of copyrights.

Unlike patents, copyrights are given for the protection of the expression of ideas and not merely ideas. Ideas, methods of operation procedures, or mathematical concepts are not covered.

Copyright protection in India is provided under the Copyright Act of 1957.Rights exclusive to the creator that prohibits the unauthorized use of his creations like reproducing or copy distribution are provided under section 14 of the copyright act.

Intentional or unintentional usage or copying of an author's copyrighted work, without due credits or permissions, amounts to copyright infringement.

Infringement can be either primary or secondary.

Primary infringement refers to merely copying the copyrighted work, with or without the knowledge of infringement with the infringer but when the work is used for unauthorised dealings like selling a pirated copy of films or music videos, selling photocopied books at a cheap price, publishing work under own name, importing etc., it amounts to secondary infringement. Knowledge of infringement is present with the infringer in case of secondary infringement.

Import of infringing copies from foreign countries to India, selling or hiring of copies of copyrighted work without the permission of the author or creator, distribution of infringing copyrighted copies for the motive of personal gains through trade or public exhibition of original work of the creator by way of trade prejudicial to the owner – all amount to copyright infringement.

Certain exceptions to using the work without infringement are-

fair use, connected judicial proceedings and making sound recordings of literary, dramatic, or musical works under certain conditions. Other important conditions include the using a copyrighted work for criticism, legislation, study, review, news reporting, use in a library, schools, and research.

Civil actions against copyright infringement are cited under Section 55 of the Copyright Act, 1957. The burden of proof in case of an act of copyright infringement rests with the owner.

What can you do if your work has been infringed?

Prove your ownership of copyright, prove there exists a substantial similarity between the original and the infringed copy and that copying will amount to improper appropriation.

Registering a copyright

is simple. A work is protected by copyright as soon as it comes into existence. A public record is maintained in the Register of Copyrights under the copyrights act of 1957. The facility of registering for a copyright is provided by the Copyrights Office. The Register of Copyrights is maintained by the Registrar of Copyrights. Chapter 13 of the copyrights rules 2013 provides the procedure to obtain registration.

A copyright is not protected in perpetuity and has a fixed span. A general rule is to protect a copyright for 60 years. An original dramatic, musical, artistic or literary work is protected for 60 years after the death of the author. Whereas, in the case of anonymous or pseudonymous publications or posthumous publications, works of government or public undertakings, works of international organizations, photographs or cinematographic films and sound recordings, the 60-year period starts from the date of the publication itself.

As per section 17 of the copyrights act, the author or the creator of the work is the first owner, without any agreement to the contrary. An exception to this is work created in the course and scope of employment, in this case, the employer becomes the first owner of the work.

The owner of the work is granted some rights which enable them to use their property hassle free and prevent its misuse. These rights are:

• The right to issue copies of the work to the public.

• The right to reproduce that work.

• The right to make any adaptation of that work.

• The right to broadcast or perform publicly

• The right to communicate work.

• The right to make cinematograph films or sound recordings of that work.

• The right to translate work.

Copyright validates the hard work of the creator by motivating them and inducing them to create more. A copyright provides branding and goodwill to the owner. It grants the creator rights over their creations, which protects and rewards their creativity and protects it from unlicensed or uncredited usage. It helps society progress by protecting the rightful owner of the work.

Copyrighting a work creates an intellectual property that can be sold, franchised, and contracted commercially.

Along with these, a copyright provides worldwide protection and aids the copyright holder who wishes to take any action, civil or criminal, against the infringer.

However, there's a shortcoming too.

Authorship and ownership aren't the same in the case of a copyrighted work. An author can be different from the owner, such as in cases when the work is done by the author who's an employee in the scope of employment, but the ownership rests with the employer or the company.

A recent and much popular case involving copyright concerns was that of RAMESHWARI PHOTOCOPY SERVICE.

The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford & Ors. v. Rameshwari Photocopy Services & Anr. (2016).

Oxford university press and Cambridge university press filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against Rameshwari Photocopy Service and the University of Delhi accusing them of distributing copied portions of their published books without any appropriate license.

The case declared that photocopying published copyrighted books, in mass quantities, was perfectly legal when done for educational purposes.

It was settled that photocopying certain portions of different books to formulate study materials or course packs that fall under the syllabus by educational institutions does not infringe section 52(1)(i) of the Copyright Act, 1957. However, this act of photocopying must be justified in educational instruction.

Another case involving copyright issues is Sajeev Pillai vs. Venu Kunnapalli and Ors., at The High Court of Kerala. The judgement held that the author has the legal right to protect his intellectual property even after assignment. Assignment of the work by him will not exhaust his legal right to claim authorship over it. The plaintiff, Sanjeev Pillai had worked on the history of the famous festival Mamankam and had written a movie script for the same. He then signed an MoU with Kavya Film productions after he met Venu Kunnapalli. The appellant claimed that the movie was made by distorting and modifying the original script and demanded an interim relief for restraining the movie to be released and distributed without giving the plaintiff proper credits and filed for multiple reliefs for the same. The court granted the interim relief and held that even after assignment, the original author's rights over his authorship would not be exhausted.

Changes and improvements in technology and changes in circumstances are posing new challenges every day. Existing laws should be updated and upgraded timely and knowledge regarding copyrights and other intellectual property rights should be spread so that authors and owners can enjoy the recognition and economic rewards for their creativity and the public can enjoy their work in the form of art, drama or literature.


• The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford & Ors. v. Rameshwari Photocopy Services & Anr. (2016)

Sajeev Pillai vs. Venu Kunnapalli and Ors. (11.12.2019 – KERHC)

This article is written by Siya Ahuja of Gargi College, Delhi University.

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