Copyright and Renunciation: Can Sanyasis Own Intellectual Property?

Posted On - 22 May, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva

This case touched on an interesting area where intellectual property law and religious customs in India meet. Recently, the Delhi High Court had to decide if a sanyasi (a person who has given up worldly possessions) can have copyright on their written works. This update investigates this issue by studying court’s thinking, related legal events, and wider effects on people who are renunciates or “sanyasis.”


In the present case, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust India (the ‘Plaintiff) filed a case against a website called (the ‘Defendant’). The Trust, made by Srila Prabhupada who is an eminent scholar and creator of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), had copyright over Srila Prabhupada’s books about Vedic literature. They found out that this website had copies of these books available for public access. The main point of the Defendant’s claim was based on Srila Prabhupada being a sanyasi, and that by this logic, he has renounced his copyright as well.

Arguments Advanced by the Plaintiff:

  • No Legal Prohibition: The main point of the Plainitff was that there is no law mentioned in the Copyright Act or any other statutes which says sanyasis cannot have intellectual property rights. They said, owning copyright does not depend on materialistic possessions.
  • Formal Assignment: The Plaintiff vide a deed of assignment, was officially given the subject matter copyright to them. They claimed that this deed confirmed their legal right over the subject intellectual property.
  • Protecting Srila Prabhupada’s Legacy: The Plaintiff highlighted that copyright is essential for guarding the literary heritage of Srila Prabhupada and making sure his teachings are spread correctly.

Arguments Advanced by the Defendant:

  • Extinguishment by Renunciation: The Defendant’s claim was that when Srila Prabhupada became a sanyasi, he gave up all possessions of this world including his intellectual property. They argued that copyright is a concern related to the material world which conflicts with the detached condition of someone who has renounced everything.
  • Sharing of Religious Knowledge: The Defendant also expressed concerns over the fact that copyright protection might impede the unrestricted sharing of religious knowledge and teachings.

Court’s Reasoning and Legal Precedents:

The Court rigorously assessed the contentions of both sides and ruled in favour of the Plaintiff.

  • No Legal Obstacle for Sanyasi Ownership: The Court recognized that there is no law in the Copyright Act which clearly says sanyasis cannot have copyright. It stressed that the right to own copyright is decided by statute, not dependent on religious rules.
  • Precedents in Favour of Sanyasi’s Property Rights: The Court referred to past decisions such as Swami Dr. Kishore Dass Ji v. State and Anr (2012) as well as Sulamangalam R. Jayalakshmi and Anr. V. Meta Musicals & Ors (2000), state that giving up religious life doesn’t necessarily mean losing all property rights, even those related to intellectual property.
  • The Argument of Public Policy: The Court acknowledged the argument of public policy put forward by the Defendant, claiming that it is essential for sanyasis to share their knowledge freely with others who also seek spiritual growth. However, the court found this point invalid because no specific law or principle was presented that would make copyrights related to spiritual work unacceptable in public interest.
  • Difference in Meaning and Significance: The Court has made it clear that there is a difference between giving up and owning. Even though a sanyasi can legally give up copyright according to Section 21 of the Copyright Act, but there was no sign found by the Court showing Srila Prabhupada took such action.


The present case offers a good starting point for discussing intellectual property rights and religious activities in India with more knowledge. Although it confirms the copyright ownership by sanyasis, this case also emphasizes the importance of exploring deeper into complicated matters such as group authorship, moral thinking, and possible disagreements with spreading religions. Legal actions to come and academic discussions could help in advancing our comprehension on intellectual property and religious practices within India’s extensive law system combined with spiritual beliefs.