The plaintiff – Indian Performing Rights Society Limited (IPRS) is an organization created with the object of protecting and enforcing rights, interests and privileges of authors, composers and publishers, who are its members, particularly in relation to the literary and musical works.  

The defendants are various FM Radio channels engaged in broadcasting film songs belonging to repertoire of Plaintiff’s members.

The plaintiff, espousing the cause of its members, moved the Bombay High Court claiming that its members are entitled to claim royalties on each occasion that their original works embedded in sound tracks as lyrics, accompanying music etc. are communicated to the public by the defendants i.e. Radio channels.

The main contention of the plaintiffs was that the amendments dated June 21, 2012 carried out in the Copyright Act, 1957 (‘the Copyright Act’) entitle its members to royalty on each occasion a sound recording is communicated to the public by the defendants. It was also submitted that the aforesaid amendments have the effect of changing the position of law enunciated by the Supreme Court in the case of IPRS Vs. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association and others (1997) 2 SCC 820 (‘the IPRS Case’).

In 1997, Supreme Court interpreted the provisions of the Copyright Act to hold that once an author of the original literary or musical work assigned the same to a producer of a cinematograph film, such author of original works could no longer claim any further royalties for such original works even if the sound recording (consisting of the literary and musical works) was communicated to the public in any form through any medium or means other than as a part of the relevant cinema.

Primary contention of the defendants in the subject case was that the amendments are merely clarifactory in nature and as Sections 13 and 14 of the Copyright Act have not been amended, amendments in other provisions of the Act do not grant any new substantive rights to the plaintiffs and the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the IPRS Case is still applicable.

On 28 April 2023 Justice Manish Pitale held that the amendment to the Copyright Act with effect from June 21, 2012, particularly proviso added to Section 17 of the Copyright Act, have the effect of changing the position of law enunciated by the Supreme Court in the IPRS Case.

This substantive right to royalty to plaintiffs is further emphasized by sub-sections (9) and (10) of Section 19 of the Copyright Act, which indicate that the right of authors, music composers etc. to claim royalties remains unaffected in case of utilization of their works:

·         in the case of a cinematograph film when it is communicated to public other than in a cinema hall, and;

·         in the case of a sound recording, whenever it is utilized in any form.

·        A communication to the public of sound recording that forms a part of the cinematograph film from radio stations is indeed a form of communication other than communication in a cinema hall.

Justice Manish Pitale, while interpreting the amendments to the Copyright Act used the statement of objects and reasons and the parliamentary committee reports as aids to interpretation and concluded that the purpose and object of the amendment appears to have been achieved when Sections 13 and 14 (with the words ‘subject to the provisions of this Act’) are read with the amended Sections 17, 18 and 19 of the said Act.

The Court held that, depending on the nature of the proviso and the interplay of various provisions of the statute, even a proviso can give rise to a substantive right in favour of a party.  It was also held that the legislature has brought amendments wherever necessary in the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act to achieve the object for which such amendments have been introduced.

The Court further held that it is clear  that the exclusive right of the defendants under Section 14(e)(iii) of the Copyright Act to communicate the sound recording to the public is subjected to the right to collect royalties now available to the authors of such literary and musical works, whose cause the plaintiff is espousing.

The Court granted interim injunction and directed payment of royalties, at the rates prescribed, to the plaintiff.

This is a path breaking decision as for the first time the court has recognized the rights of the authors and musicians to collect royalties for the songs which form part of a cinematography work if such songs are broadcasted or communicated to the public by any mode other than cinema in a cinema hall. This order nullified the earlier interpretations of the sections 13, 14 and 17 of the Copyright Act prior to the amendments dated June 21, 2012. 

For the court order, click here.

Image courtesy: Dave Weatherall

Trademark Attorney

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