Moral Rights of Owner in Copyright Law of India – A Paradigm Shift

August 27, 2019
Union of India & Ors

Hon’ble Delhi High Court, recently in the case of Raj Rewal v. Union of India & Ors., defined the scope of ‘Moral Rights’ under Section 57 of The Copyright Act of India. This judgment is very significant in itself, particularly in the development of moral rights jurisprudence in India. This article gives a step by step analysis of this recent judgment with the prevailing precedents in India in relation to moral rights of Author/Owner.

The Concept of Moral Rights in India

In Indian copyright regime, moral rights find expression in Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, which is in conformity with Article 6bis of Berne Convention . Moral Rights are the author’s or creator’s special rights which encompass within themselves two major rights, which are right to paternity and the right to integrity. Paternity rights deals with the concept of attribution and prominent identification of the author in relation to the work, whenever it is reproduced or publicly performed or disseminated in any medium. Right to Integrity on the other hand, deals with the modification, or any derogatory treatment of the work, integrity right permits the author to restrain or claim damages in the event of any distortion, mutilation, modification or any other untoward act done to his work. The primary rationale behind these rights is to protect the Author’s personality which is embedded in the work.

Judicial Precedent on Moral Rights – Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India
The landmark judgment in relation to the concept of moral rights was given by Hon’ble Delhi High Court in case of Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India. In this case plaintiff Amarnath Sehgal made a bronze sculpture for government which was placed on the wall of the lobby in Vigyan Bhawan. In 1979 the government pulled down the sculpture from the walls of Vigyan Bhawan and dumped it in the storeroom. When Mr. Sehgal came to know about this ill treatment, he filed a petition in Delhi High Court for recognition and enforcement of his rights on the sculpture. In this judgment, a wide interpretation was given to the concept of moral rights and Section 57(1) was said to include within its ambit, the concept of destruction. The main take away from this judgment was that, despite the transfer or sale of a copyrighted work from the creator to another person, all the rights of the creator do not get extinguished. The creator still retains his/her moral rights that can be enforced when need arises.

Raj Rewal v. Union of India Case – A Paradigm Shift
In this case the Hall of Nations and Hall of Industries was designed by the plaintiff, later in 2016 the defendant Indian Trade Promotion Council (here in after referred to as ITPO) brought in a proposal for demolition of this building as a part of re-development of Pragati Maidan complex. Thereafter, the buildings were demolished. Subsequently, Plaintiff, Raj Rewal filed a suit in Delhi High Court against the actions of the ITPO, claiming that the demolition had derogated the plaintiff’s ‘special rights’ under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, and prayed for a mandatory injunction and to reinstate the building.
The defendant in this case, with a narrow view to the interpretation of Section 57, argued that this Section is not concerned with the total destruction of the work and once the work is totally removed and is not in the public view, hence the question of the same affecting author’s right cannot arise. On the other hand the plaintiff looked at it in the wider view of interpretation and argued that such demolition of his work is prejudicial to the honour and reputation of the plaintiff.
The major question involved in this case was, does an architect as the creator and legal ‘author’ of a building having artistic significance, have the right to object to the modification or destruction of their work by the owner of the building? The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in this judgment answered this question in negative. The Hon’ble Court held that that author’s rights to prevent ‘distortion, mutilation or modification’ of their work under Section 57 of the copyright Act do not permit an author to prevent the destruction of a work in its entirety, since “that what cannot be viewed, seen, heard or felt, cannot be imperfect and cannot affect the honour or reputation of the author.” Hence, the Hon’ble Court took the narrowed view to interpret Section 57 in this judgment, and this interpretation given by Court is in contrast with the interpretation given by the same Hon’ble Court in Amarnath Sehgal Case.

Observation by Court in Raj Rewal Case
In Raj Rewal Case the Hon’ble Court observed that:
1. The Section titled “Author’s Special Right” gives special right to claim authorship and the right to restrain or claim of damages in respect of distortion, mutilation, modification or other Act in relation to such work if such act is prejudicial to his honour or reputation, but destruction of the work in its entirety i.e. making it disappear, cannot be, prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author. Further, it was said that “I like or dislike only a building/structure which I see. What I don‟t see, I don‟t judge”. When a building is not seen, the question of forming any opinion of the architect does not arise.

2. Right to Property is a constitutional right under Article 300-A which is with the land owner and it gives legal right to the land owner and on the other hand the copyright Act is only a statutory right, hence a statutory right cannot supersede the legal right given by the constitution. Right to property although no longer a fundamental right is still a constitutional right. It was observed by Hon’ble Court that, Article 300-A of constitution mandates that no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law, no law unless expressly providing for deprivation of property can, by implication be interpreted as depriving a person of his property.

3. Further it was observed by the Hon’ble Court that Section 52 titled “Certain Acts not to be infringement of copyright” in sub-Section (1)(x) thereof lists “the reconstruction of a building or structure in accordance with the architectural drawings or plans by reference to which the building or structure was originally constructed” meaning that such reconstruction is not an infringement of copyright. However, the question of “reconstruction” would arise only if the demolition of the building were to be not prohibited by the Act. To hold that such demolition is prohibited by Section 57(1)(b) of the Act would render otiose Section 52(1)(x) permitting such reconstruction

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in this judgment in Raj Rewal Case narrowed down the interpretation of Section 57 of The Copyright Act, 1957 and in a way made the concept of moral rights, more confusing in Indian regime.
A. In this judgment the Court did not give any importance to interpretation and jurisprudence of Section 57 given by this same Court in the judgment of Amarnath Sehgal Case. In Raj Rewal case it is held by this Court that destruction of the work in its entirety i.e. making it disappear, cannot be, prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author. This view in this judgment is in contrast with the view in Amarnath Sehgal Case wherein this same Court had held that

“There would therefore be urgent need to interpret Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 in its wider amplitude to include destruction of a work of art, being the extreme form of mutilation, since by reducing the volume of the authors creative corpus it affects his reputation prejudicially as being Actionable under said Section. Further, in relation to the work of an author, subject to the work attaining the status of a modern national treasure, the right would include an Action to protect the integrity of the work in relation to the cultural heritage of the nation.”

The decisions in both these case are in contrast to each other, in Raj Rewal Case the Hon’ble Court held that the destruction of work does not constitute a violation of the right under Section 57, and restricted the scope of Section 57 and on the other hand in Amarnath Sehgal Case this same Court gave preservation of cultural heritage a very high importance through various international conventions.

B. This judgment of Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Raj Rewal Case restricts the rights of Architects under Section 57 of Copyright Act, now the technical and economic reasons of land owners to demolish the building will always super cede any claim that the architect of a building may have over it for the preservation of its artistic integrity. This judgment highly restricts the architects or designer’s rights given to them by Section 57 of the Copyright Act.

The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Raj Rewal Case has provided a different viewpoint over the author’s special right. The Hon’ble High Court while discussing the special rights of author, also ensured that a statutory right shall not supersede a constitutional right. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court relied on various judgments, wherein the Hon’ble Supreme Court valued the right to property under 300-A, as also a human right. Emphasizing over the property rights, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court refused to grant the petitioner any relief based over his moral rights.
Pursuant to the judgment, it is made clear that the constitutional right under Article 300-A, also a human right, will supersede any statutory rights of individual. The opinion of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court stating “In the context of architects, whose drawings/designs have transformed into a building over the land of others, the only rights under Section 57 of the Act can be to claim to be the architect of that building and to restrain making of any changes thereto, to make the building appear something different from what the architect had conceived and to thereafter also proclaim the concerned architect of a building which is very different from what the architect had authored, appears to be based on a proper reasoning that the destruction of work essentially means removing the work from the public domain resultantly ceasing the work to exist, and once the work cease to exist, moral rights, on the ground that the act of destruction is prejudicial to the honour and reputation of the author does not arise.
The claim of petitioner in Amarnath Sehgal Case was that the Architecture in question was of a cultural importance, and therefore, the state had an obligation to protect the work of national importance, however, recently the Hon’ble Delhi High Court, in a writ petition by Raj Rewal, considered the decision of heritage conservation committee which stated ‘not to even consider buildings that are less than 60 years in age as heritage’ and thus held that there is no legal right in the petitioner to seek declaration of the subject buildings as heritage and their preservation.
Even though the viewpoint given by Hon’ble Delhi High Court in this judgment is restricted in nature and the interpretation of moral rights given in this case is in disparity with the interpretation given in the Amarnath Sehgal Case. However Hon’ble Delhi High Court through this judgment has tried to emphasize on the point that the owner of the land cannot be restrained from using his/her land as against the author’s moral right.
The copyright regime of India, vide Section 57 of The Copyright Act, 1957, recognizes and safeguards the moral rights of author/architect, but this is limited to such modification and alteration that it looks otherwise than as designed by the Author/Architect. However, once a building on a land is obliterated, the Author/Architect cannot claim Moral Rights over that vanished building. In the landmark judgment of Amarnath Sehgal vs. union of India it was held that moral rights are absolute rights that can’t be waived off and is held by the copyright owner, however by the case mentioned above it is clear that moral rights are subject to doctrine of exhaustion and therefore, it may be said that the destruction of the work in its entirety i.e. making it disappear, cannot be prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the Author and hence the question of forming any opinion of the architect does not arise especially when work cannot be seen. Such parallels can be drawn on account of the matter in the present case stating that the moral rights of the architect cannot supersede the rights enshrined in the constitution of India.

1CS(COMM) 3/2018.
2The Berne Convention, adopted in 1886, deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors. It provides creators such as authors, musicians, poets, painters etc. with the means to control how their works are used, by whom, and on what terms.
3(2002) 63 DRJ 558.
4Supra note 1.
5Chairman, Indore Vikas Pradhikaran vs. Pure Industrial Coke and Chemicals ltd. (2007) 8 SCC 705, Karnataka State Financial Corporation vs. N. Narasimahaiah (2008) 5 SCC 176, Hindustan petroleum Corporation ltd. vs. Darius Shapur Chennai (2005) 7 SCC 627.

For more information please contact us at :