Moral Rights and Copyright

Moral Rights


Under the Copyright Act, 1957,copyright is a right given to inventors of literary, dramatic, musical, computer and artistic works, and producers of cinematography films and sound recordings. Copyright may include rights of reproduction, communication to the public, adaptation and translation of work. Copyright safe guards the tiniest details of the authors’ rights over his creations, protecting and rewarding  his creativity. The protection that copyright provides to the efforts of writers, dramatists,artists, designers, architects,musicians, and producers of sound recordings, cinematography films and computer software, creates an atmosphere encouraging the  creativity.


Moral rights have been explained in Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 ( with the help of the Berne Convention). Originally, the section was relevant only to literary works, thus leaving authors of other works with nothing to safeguard themselves with . However, after a judgment in 1987, the Court widened the scope of Section 57 to include authors of other works as well. Including moral rights apply to literary, artistic, musical, dramatic and cinematograph films.



Section 57 lays down the author’s special right which may include what is commonly called as the right to paternity and the right to integrity.

The right to paternity is fundamentally the right of an author to claim authorship of his work and have it attributed to him, while the right to integrity allows an author to confine or claim damages in respect of any distortion, damage, modification or other act done to his work which

  • would prejudice honour or reputation and
  • is done before the expiration of the term of copyright in the work.

Exception in the form of explanation is stated in Section 57 which states that Failure to display a work or to display it to the satisfaction of the author shall not be deemed to be an infringement of the rights conferred by this section. Also, when it comes to software, the authors of computer programmes cannot restrain those who lawfully possess a copy of their programmes from making backup copies as temporary protection against loss or from adapting the programmes to use them for the purpose for which they are supplied, or claim damages from lawful possessors for these acts.

Moral rights can not be transferred but the authorcan  relinquish his rights in the said work under Section 21 of the Copyright Act.The Statute is silent and very few cases deal with this, and is debatable. It is not legally possible to waiver moral rights nor is it possible to include a clause in the agreement stating that the publisher will not sue or take any action against the author (as it will be hit by certain sections of the Indian Contract Act). The best bet would be to draft an agreement with aattired severability clause.

In a landmark judgement on moral rights, the Court took into consideration not only the national framework for protection of moral rights, but also the international framework in this regard. In that dispute, a sculptor who had sculpted a sculpture for the Indian Government filed an action against the Government for having “mutilated” the sculpture he made by removing it from the heritage and storing it in a store room. The Court held that the sculpture ought to have returned to the sculptor and also directed the Government to pay compensation to him.

Though moral rights in India has a wide meaning attached to it, it hasn’t been defined to include certain rights like the right to publicity or the right against false attribution like in the UK. Though right to publicity would fall under the laws of defamation, it hasn’t been included as a moral right for Indian authors. Nevertheless, the authors should be aware of whatever their moral rights might be in an era where piracy is at its peak.

In KPM Sobharam v/s M/s Rattan Prakashan Mandir[2] ,the plaintiff, the author of certain books instituted the suit against the defendants for injunction, restraining them from printing, publishing and selling the specified books, rendition of accounts for the illegal gains made by the defendants for all unauthorized publications, and, for damages under the provisions of sections 55 and 57 of the Act.

The plaintiff claimed that thedefendants mutilated and distorted the original works of the plaintiff by publishing various books in modified form in gross violation of the plaintiff’s copyright. Theplaintiff alleged that the defendants had changed the original works’ title and madea distortion and mutilation of the plaintiff’s work prejudicial to the plaintiff’sreputation. The plaintiff claimed that he never gave any authority to thedefendants to print and publish the books in that manner. The court grantedinjunction restraining the defendants from printing, publishing and selling thegoods written by the plaintiff till final disposal of the suit.

Under section 57 of the Act, the author of a work has the right to claim the authorship of the work. He also has a right to restrain the distortion or mutilation of his work or to claim damages for the distortion even after assigning the copyright. The contract of assignment will require being consistent with section 57.

The author of a computer programme is also protected under the section 57 of the said act . Themoral rights will exist with the computer programmer even after conveying the copyright ina software programme. If the assignee distorts the software as a result of whichthe programmer’s reputation is harmed, the programmer can sue for restrainingsuch distortion and for damages. The proviso to the section excludes from thepurview of the section, the adaptation of a computer programme by a lawfulpossessor of a copy of a computer programme to utilise the computer programme and making of backup copies as a temporary protection against loss.

Therefore, even if the contract for assignment of software makes a provision for assignment of all economic and moral rights, the assignor can at any time exercise his special rights granted under section 57 of the Act.


[1]AIR 1983 Del. 461 (468,469),

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