IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
AIR 1977 SC 1443
Criminal Appeal No 87 of 2020
Indian Performing Rights Society
Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Ltd.
Date of Judgement
14th March, 1977
Jaswant Singh, J; V.R. Krishna Iyer, J
The dispute of copyright in the works of music composers with the producers of cinematographic films has always been in question. The lyricists and music composers etc. have always complained that they were not getting the benefits out of the work made by them, instead, the producers of films are getting those benefits. It is the reason that the case of Indian Performing Rights Society Limited (IPRS) v. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association[i] becomes important. This case decided upon the confusion of copyright between music composers, lyricists, etc. and film producers.
Before this judgment, there was a dispute between music composers and producers of films over the copyright and the IPRS would claim royalty over the songs when they were to be performed in public. This judgment settled the dispute between both the parties. Before the judgment, the producers of films would have to pay royalty, the fee to the IPRS. After the judgment, the music composers claimed that they have been deprived of rights as they would not be earning the profits over their songs. Further technological advancements like making ringtones and caller tunes also caused hardship for the music composers and as a result, an Amendment Act was passed in 2012 to reduce the hardship of composers to some extent.
Statutory Provisions Discussed:
- Clauses (d), (f), (j), (m), (p), (q), (r), (v) and (y) of Section 2,
- Section 13 of Copyright Act, 1957
- Section 14 of Copyright Act, 1957
- Section 17 of Copyright Act, 1957
- Section 18 of Copyright Act, 1957
- Section 22 & 26 of Copyright Act, 1957
- Section 30 of Copyright Act, 1957 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Act’).
Facts of the Case:
IPRS incorporated in 1969 to issue or grant licenses for performance of musical works of which copyrights subsisted in India. It also charges fees and royalties that are collected for the grant of licenses for performance in public of works which it claims to have copyright subsisting in India.
Associations of Cinematographic films filed objections before the Copyright Board under Section 34 of the Act. The Copyright Board expressed the view that the copyright remains with the music composers and that they could assign the performing right in public to IPRS. Aggrieved by the decision of the Board, the respondents filed an appeal before Calcutta High Court which reversed the decision of the Copyright Board and thus held that the music composers don’t have right, instead it is the producers of cinematographic films who has the copyright over it. Aggrieved by the Decision of High Court, the Appellants have preferred an appeal under Article 133(1) of the Constitution. The appellants claimed that the music composers have the copyright over the work and the IPRS can charge a fee, royalty when these works are to be performed in public. On the other hand, the Respondents claimed that they have the copyright over the work since the composers worked under a contract and the music was incorporated in a film.
Issues which are in challenges:
- Whether in view of the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957, an existing and future rights of music composer, the lyricist is capable of assignment?
- Whether the producer of a cinematograph film can defeat the right of the composer by engaging him?
(a) Arguments by the Appellants- The Appellants argued that the composer of a literary or musical work has exclusive copyright in a literary or musical work and that right is infringed by any person if he without a license from the owner of the copyright, performs the work in public by exhibiting the cinematograph film. A person has to take permission from the owner of the copyright i.e. the music composer, lyricist, etc. if he wants to perform his work in public even by way of a cinematographic film. The Appellants further argued that the copyright in a cinematographic film and the copyright in a music work is different. They further stated that Section 17(b) of the Act has no application hence the producers of films cannot claim copyright over the music work.
(b)Arguments by the Respondents- The respondents argued that the soundtrack is part of a cinematograph film by virtue of Section 2(f) of the Act. They further argued that cinematograph film is copyrighted under Section 13(1)(b) of the Act and Section 14(1)(c)(ii) of the Act confers on the owner of copyright the right to be seen in public and in so far as it consists of songs to be performed in public. Hence the permission of composers of lyrics or music is not required for a movie to be seen in public and no fees are required to be paid to IPRS. They have further argued that Section 17(b) will apply because if the producers hire someone to make music or lyrics as part of a film for consideration, it confers separate copyright on a cinematograph film and the producer can exercise both the rights under Section 14(1)(c)(ii) and 13(4) of the Act. The Appellants relied upon the decision in Wallerstein v. Herbert[ii] where it was held that the music composed for consideration by the plaintiff under a contract for a drama to be performed on stage was not an independent composition but is part and parcel of the drama and hence the music composer did not have any copyright over it.
The judgment of the Court was delivered by Justice Jaswant Singh.
(a) Ratio Decidendi- The Court while deciding Issue no. 1 held that, “It is accordingly held that an existing and future right of music …… composer and lyricist in their respective ‘works’ as defined in the Act is capable of the assignment subject to the conditions mentioned in section 18 of the Act, as also in section 19 of the Act which requires an assignment to be in writing, signed by the assignor or by his duly authorized agent.”
It was the Second issue which Court considered was a Hot-bed of Controversy. The Court after considering the various provisions and arguments of both the parties held that According to Provision (b) & (c) of Section 17 of the Act if the producer of the film hires a music composer to make music or lyrics to be incorporated in a film under a contract of service for a valuable consideration, it is the producer and not the composer who has the right over the music so composed. Justice Singh further held that according to Section 17(c) of the Act if the music is composed under a contract of service or apprenticeship, the producer will have the right over the rights of composer and he can defeat the rights of the composer according to the provisions of Section 17 of the Act. The Court also approved the decision of Wallerstein v. Herbert [iii]on which the respondents have relied.
(b) Obiter Dicta- Justice Krishna Iyer while agreeing with Justice Singh widened the right of the music composers to some extent. Justice Iyer held that the producer does have exclusive right over the film as a whole and he need not pay any fee or royalty to IPRS. But music as a separate part remains the copyright of the composer which means the producers can claim copyright over the film when it is performed in public as a whole but the producers cannot play parts of music separately in a theatre to attract the audience and if he does so he will infringe the right of the composer.
The decision of the court came as a sigh of relief for the producers of the film as now they need to pay to music composers and then to the IPRS as fees for whenever the film is performed in public. On the other hand, this case increased hardships for the music composers as ringtones and caller tunes were also part of the music. Due to the persistent efforts of the music composers, the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012 was passed by parliament which protects the rights of the composers to some extent. This judgment has been relied upon by the Supreme Court recently in the International Confederation of Society of Authors v. Aditya Pandey [iv]. Hence, the law remains the same even as today to the extent it is amended by the Amendment Act of 2012.
Edited by Parul Soni
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i]Indian Performing Rights Society Limited (IPRS) v. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association, AIR 1977 SC 1443.
[ii]Wallerstein v. Herbert, (1867) 16, LTR 453.
[iv]International Confederation of Society of Authors v. Aditya Pandey, (2017) 11 SCC 437.