Protecting Authors’ Rights: Court Enforces 2012 Copyright Amendments

Posted On - 24 June, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva

In a complex legal battle involving multiple suits and applications, the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) emerged victorious against Vodafone India Ltd. (Vodafone) and Saregama India Ltd. (Saregama). The core issue revolved around whether Vodafone required a separate license from IPRS and must pay royalties before commercially exploiting the musical and literary works of IPRS members. This litigation highlights significant legal interpretations and the evolving framework of copyright law in India.

Vodafone, a telecommunications provider, offers Value Added Services (VAS) such as pre-recorded Caller Ring Back Tone (CRBT). Saregama manufactures, sells, and publishes sound recordings, including digital downloads of both film and non-film songs. IPRS, a non-profit copyright society, safeguards the rights of authors, composers, and publishers of musical and literary works under the Copyright Act, 1957.

Three primary suits formed the crux of this legal dispute: first, CS 23 of 2018, filed by Vodafone, seeking a declaration against IPRS’s claim for license fees. An interim order restrained IPRS and Saregama from raising royalty claims upon Vodafone depositing ₹3.5 crores. Second, CS 155 of 2018, filed by Saregama, seeking an injunction against Vodafone for exploiting copyrights in sound recordings without proper licensing. Third, CS 210 of 2018, filed by IPRS, seeking to restrain Vodafone from exploiting musical and literary works without paying royalties, leading to an interim order directing Vodafone to deposit ₹2.5 crores.

The crux of the litigation centered on the interpretation of the 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act, 1957. These amendments aimed to protect authors’ rights and ensure they received royalties for the commercial exploitation of their works. Sections 17, 18, and 19 of the Act were particularly pertinent, granting authors specific rights and outlining the conditions for valid copyright assignments and licenses.

IPRS contended that Vodafone lacked lawful authority to exploit the musical and literary works incorporated in sound recordings without a valid license from IPRS. Vodafone’s agreements with Saregama did not grant such rights. IPRS emphasized that post-amendment, authors’ rights to royalties were recognized, and commercial exploiters, including Vodafone, must obtain licenses and pay royalties to authors.

Vodafone argued that Saregama, as the producer of sound recordings, was the first owner of the incorporated literary and musical works. Therefore, no separate license from IPRS was required for exploiting sound recordings. Vodafone also maintained that copyright in sound recordings was independent of the incorporated works, and no royalty was payable to IPRS unless the works were used separately from the sound recording.

The Calcutta High Court delivered a comprehensive judgment, addressing various applications and suits. The Court dismissed Vodafone’s application, finding that it failed to establish a prima facie case. The interim order dated 1 October 2018, which restrained IPRS from claiming royalties, was vacated, and the deposited sum of ₹3.5 crores, along with interest, was ordered to be released to IPRS. The Court, further dismissed Saregama’s application, recognizing IPRS as a necessary party and allowing multiple applications for interim reliefs and impleadment.

The Court underscored the significance of the 2012 amendments, which substantively altered the legal framework to protect authors’ rights. The amendments ensured that authors received an equal share of royalties and mandated that commercial exploiters obtain valid licenses and pay royalties. The Court found Vodafone’s reliance on past agreements and the Master Agreement insufficient, as these did not negate the requirement for licenses from IPRS.

The judgment referenced the IPRS vs. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures case, elucidating the coexistence of copyrights in composite creations like cinematograph films and sound recordings. The Court reaffirmed authors’ rights to royalties for the public communication of sound recordings, aligning with the legislative intent of the 2012 amendments.

This landmark ruling underscores the necessity for telecommunications providers and other commercial exploiters to adhere to the stringent licensing requirements set forth by the Copyright Act, 1957, post-amendment. The decision fortifies the rights of authors, ensuring they receive fair compensation for the commercial use of their creative works, and sets a precedent for future disputes involving copyright and royalties in the digital age.