By Shilpi Sharan and Nitika Sinha
In a recent development, the Department for Promotion of Industry an Internal Trade (DPIIT) has issued a public notice dated July 24, 2023, clarifying that the definition of the term “Religious Ceremony” [as mentioned above in Section 52 (1) (za) of Copyright At 1957] includes “marriage procession and other social festivities associated with marriage”1.
Playing music or songs at marriage occasions has been a common practice from a long time. Over the years, copyright societies have been sending notices to people for payment of royalties for playing music or songs at marriage occasions. These notices often claim that playing copyrighted musical work without obtaining the necessary licenses or paying royalties is not permissible.
However, whether Copyright Societies are entitled to claim royalties from the performance of musical works and sound recordings at marriage processions and associated festivities, has been a topic of debate since a long time.
The provision in question here is Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 19572 which enlists certain acts that do not constitute as an infringement of Copyright. Sub-section (1) (za) of Section 52, states that:
“the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work or the communication to the public of such work or of a sound recording in the course of any bona fide religious ceremony or an official ceremony held by the Central Government or the State Government or any local authority.
Explanation- For the purpose of this clause, religious ceremony including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage.”
In the case of Devendrakumar Ramchandra Dwivedi vs. State of Gujarat and Ors.3 , the Gujarat High Court held that Section 52(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957 aims to exempt live performances of works from copyright restrictions when there is no profit motive, no admission fee, and when the proceeds from admission are solely used for educational, religious, or charitable purposes, rather than for personal financial gain. This concept is covered under the fair use doctrine, which is a key limitation on a copyright owner’s exclusive rights. The judgement stated that:
“The Central Government State Government or any local authority can arrange the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work, officially which will not amount to infringement of copyright or also in connection with a bonafide religious ceremony like Navratri Pooja, Arati etc. so also marriage procession or other social festivities associated with a marriage, would not amount to infringement of copyright.”
Further, there have been decisions where the High Courts have passed orders in favor of the Copyright Societies such as in the case of Phonographic Performance vs. State Of Punjab4 , the Punjab & Haryana High Court held that:
“….A sound reproduction by a DJ performing at such an event is surely a function that is connected to marriage. It is not as if a DJ’s performance amounts to conducting the marriage. Marriage is definitely different from the functions connected to the marriage….”
In the year 2019, the government had to intervene this matter and the Registrar of Copyright, vide Notification No. 10-26/2019-CO dated August 28, 2019, clarified that the act of playing sound recordings during religious ceremonies, including marriage processions and related celebrations, is allowed under Section 52(1)(za) of the Copyright Act, 19575 . This usage is considered permissible and does not constitute copyright infringement. Consequently, obtaining a license for this purpose is not necessary. The said notice stated as below:
“In view of the provision contained in Section 52(1) (za) of the Act, read with the explanation thereto, it is evident that the utilization of any sound recording in the course of religious ceremony including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage does not amount to infringement of copyrights and hence no license is required to be obtained for the said purpose.”
Subsequently, in the case of “Novex Communications Private Limited vs. Union of India and Ors.”7 , wherein the petitioner challenged this notice through a writ petition claiming that the government had no authority to interpret the law as it is exclusively a legislative function, to be performed normally by the parliament and, in rare cases, the courts. The Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court vide its judgment dated May 19, 2022 cited and followed the ratio as in the case of Phonographic Performance Limited v. State of Punjab (2011) and quashed the Public notice dated 27/08/2019 issued by the Registrar of Copyright.
Recently, the DPIIT has received several complaints regarding this issue claiming that the Copyright Societies collecting hefty amount of royalties for issuing licenses for playing musical works at marriage functions is in contravention with the Section 52 (1) (za) of Copyright At 1957 . As an addressal to the said complaints, the DPIIT has now issued public notice clarifying that the term “Religious ceremony” includes a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with marriage.
The DPIIT in its notice further states that the performance of musical work, communication to the public of sound recordings etc. shall not constitute an infringement of copyright and thus, Copyright Societies are directed to refrain from demanding any royalties with respect to musical works being played at marriage functions.
3 Civil App. No.9979 of 2009
4 Civil Writ Petition No.7772 of 2011
6 CWP No. 28758 of 2019