SUBJECT: Scope of Section 57 of the Copyright Act.
Facts: The Plaintiff, Mr Amarnath Sehgal, a world-celebrated Sculptor, created a mural cast in bronze to be placed in Vigyan Bhawan. The artistic work of the plaintiff was kept there from 1962 to 1979. In 1979, the mural was removed without his permission and was dumped in a storeroom. In the process of removal, due to improper handling, the mural lost its aesthetic and market value. When the plaintiff came to know of this ill-treatment, he made representations to the government authorities for restoration of the mural but of no use. In 1991, the plaintiff brought a suit in Delhi High Court for violation of his moral rights praying for a permanent injunction to restrain the Defendants from further mutilating the mural and damages of Rs fifty lacs towards compensation for humiliation, injury, insult and loss of reputation. He also prayed for the mural to be returned to him.
IMPORTANT PROVISIONS: Section 57 of the Copyright Act.
The main issues in question before the Court were:
Plaintiff's Contentions: The Plaintiff contended that since the mural was of national importance and a symbol of cultural heritage, the unauthorized removal of the mural by the defendants violated his moral rights under Section 57 of the Act. The destruction of the mural resulted in harm to his identity, reputation and creative efforts. In relief, he prayed for a permanent injunction to restrain the government from further demolishing and also asked for monetary compensation of Rs Fifty Lac for humiliation, injury, insult and loss of reputation caused by the defendants to him.
Defendant's Contentions: The Defendant contended that since the plaintiff had been paid the price for the work, it is the rightful owner of the mural. No moral rights subsist with the Plaintiff under Section 57 of the Act.
Also, the mural was removed in the year 1979, and therefore the cause of action arose in 1979. Hence, the suit being filed in 1992, i.e. after 13 years from the date of the violating act, was disqualified by limitation.
The Court made essential observations regarding the scope and interpretation of Section 57 of the Copyright Act.
The Court held that when an author creates an artistic or a literary work, it results in the creation of the following rights:
a. Paternity Right/ Identification Right/Attribution Right, i.e., his right to have his name on the work of art or literary work;
b. Divulgation Right/ Dissemination Right, i.e., his economic right to sell the work for a valuable consideration;
c. Moral Right of Integrity, i.e., his right to object to such treatment of his work which is derogatory to his reputation; and
d. Right of Retraction, i.e., his right to withdraw his work from publication.
The Court observed that all the above rights, excluding the dissemination/divulgation right, originate from the fact that the author is the creative individual, who by using intellect has created the work, giving rise to a privileged relationship between him and his work. The Court captioned these rights (a, c and d) together as the author’s moral rights and held the same to be vested in the plaintiff.
The Court observed that the special right had been granted upon the author with the only objective of protecting that honour and reputation which his intellectual work has earned for him. Therefore, the other person who has acquired ownership in the intellectual work from the author in return of payment to the author should be restrained from causing any harm to the honour and reputation of the author. The reason being that such unauthorized acts spoiled the spirit with which the author created the work.
Although the ownership of an intellectual work had been transferred to another person by the author himself for monetary gain, the work continues to stand with the name of the author. So it is morally wrong to distort, mutilate or modify the creative work of the author to the prejudice of his integrity and reputation by another person just because he had paid the consideration for that work. Such distortion, mutilation or modification was nothing but tampering with the spirit of the author. It was the morality, which was at the root of the special right granted upon an author concerning his intellectual work under Section 57 of the Copyright Act.
The Court held that destruction was an extreme form of mutilation. The Court awarded damages to the extent of Rs Five Lacs to the plaintiff and gave directions to the defendants to return the mural to Mr Sehgal within two weeks from the date of the judgement.
The present case is a landmark Indian case decided by Delhi High Court, which for the first time dealt with the moral rights of an author under the Copyright Act and awarded damages. The judgment gives a new aspect to the right of integrity. It is clear that the right can now be exercised to protect an artistic work not only from distortion or mutilation but also from apparent distortion.