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An insight into the Copyright Act, 1957 and the rules made therein

March 31, 2012


Creativity being the keystone of progress, no civilized society can afford to ignore the basic requirement of encouraging the same. Economic and social development of a society is dependent on creativity.

In the light of this, the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 has been enacted which came into effect from January, 1958 and was modified five times i.e., in 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994 and 1999.

The Indian Copyright Act, 1957 as amended from time to time and the Indian Copyright Rules, 1958 (Rules), governs the system of copyrights in India. Copyright is a right given by the law to creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and producers of cinematographic films and sound recordings. In fact, it is a bundle of rights including, inter alia, rights of reproduction, communication to the public, adaptation and translation of the work.

The provisions of the The Indian Copyright Act, 1957and the Copyright Rules, 1958 as amended from time to time and as applicable as on today are explained hereunder.

Classes of work for which Copyright protection is applicable

Copyright subsists throughout India in the following classes of works:

  • Original literary,

  • dramatic,

  • musical work (consists of music and also graphic notation of such works but excludes any words or action intended to be sung, spoken or performed with music)

  • artistic works (painting, sculpture, drawing, engraving, photograph, architecture or any other work of artistic craftsmanship (whether or not any such work poses artistic work)

  • Cinematograph films (work of visual recording on any medium produced through a process from which a moving image may be produced by any means and includes a sound recording accompanying such visual recording); and

  • Sound recordings (recording of sounds from which sounds may be produced regardless of the medium on which such recording is made or the method by which the sounds are produced).

Protection to Authors

Copyright protects the rights of authors, i.e., creators of intellectual property in the form of literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works and cinematograph films and sound recordings.

The following rights are protected:

  • reproduce the work

  • issue copies of the work to the public

  • perform the work in public

  • communicate the work to the public.

  • make cinematograph film or sound recording in respect of the work

  • make any translation of the work

  • make any adaptation of the work ( conversion of dramatic work into non dramatic work, literary work into dramatic work, re-arrangement of literary or dramatic work, depiction in comic form or through pictures of a literary or dramatic work, transcription of musical work or any act involving rearrangement or alteration of an existing work and the making of a cinematograph film of literary or dramatic or musical work)

In addition to all the rights applicable to a literary work, owner of the copyright in a computer programme enjoys the rights to sell or give on hire or offer for sale or hire, regardless of whether such a copy has been sold or given on hire on earlier occasion.

Owners of copyrights

The following are the owners of the copyrights:

  • In musical sound recordings: lyricist, composer, singer, musician and the person or company who produced the sound recording

  • In works by journalists during their employment: in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, the proprietor

  • In works produced for valuable consideration at the instance of another person: in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, the person at whose instance the work is produced

Assignment of Copyright

The owner of the copyright in an existing work or the prospective owner of the copyright in a future work may assign to any person the copyright either wholly or partially and either generally or subject to limitations and either for the whole term of the copyright or any part thereof. The assignment mention the rights, duration, the territorial limits of the assignment and the royalty payable thereon and should be in writing signed by the assignor or by his duly authorised agent.

If the assignment of Copyright does not contain any provision mentioned below

Then the following provisions prescribed by the Act will prevail

Where the assignee does not exercise the rights assigned to him within a period of one year from the date of assignment

Shall lapse after the expiry of the said period unless otherwise specified in the assignment

If the period of assignment is not stated

it shall be deemed to be five years from the date of assignment.

If the territorial extent of assignment of the rights is not specified

it shall be presumed to extend within the whole of India.

Term of the protection of Copyright

The general rule is that copyright lasts for 60 years. In the case of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works the 60-year period is counted from the year following the death of the author. In the case of cinematograph films, sound recordings, photographs, posthumous publications, anonymous and pseudonymous publications, works of government and works of international organisations, the 60-year period is counted from the date of publication.

Exceptions to the use Copyright

In order to protect the interests of users, some exemptions have been prescribed in respect of specific uses of works enjoying copyright. Some of the exemptions are the uses of the work:

  • for the purpose of research or private study,

  • for criticism or review,

  • for reporting current events,

  • in connection with judicial proceeding,

  • performance by an amateur club or society if the performance is given to a non-paying audience, and

  • the making of sound recordings of literary, dramatic or musical works under certain conditions.

  • for the purpose of education and religious ceremonies

Application for registration of copyright

The procedure for registration is as follows:
  • Application for registration is to be made in Form IV as prescribed in the first schedule to the Rules accompanied by the requisite fees prescribed in the second schedule to the Rules ;
  • Separate applications should be made for registration of each work;
  • The applications should be signed by the applicant or the advocate in whose favor a Vakalatnama or Power of Attorney has been executed, and the same has to be annexed to the application form.

Administration of the Copyright Law

The Copyright Act provides for a quasi-judicial body called the Copyright Board consisting of a Chairman and two or more, but not exceeding fourteen, other members for adjudicating certain kinds of copyright cases. The Chairman of the Board is of the level of a judge of a High Court. The Board has the power to:

  • hear appeals against the orders of the Registrar of Copyright;

  • hear applications for rectification of entries in the Register of Copyrights;

  • adjudicate upon disputes on assignment of copyright;

  • grant compulsory licence to publish or republish works (in certain circumstances);

  • grant compulsory licence to produce and publish a translation of a literary or dramatic work in any language after a period of seven years from the first publication of the work;

  • hear and decide disputes as to whether a work has been published or about the date of publication or about the term of copyright of a work in another country;

  • fix rates of royalties in respect of sound recordings under the cover-version provision; and

  • fix the resale share right in original copies of a painting, a sculpture or a drawing and of original manuscripts of a literary or dramatic or musical work.

Rights of the Registrar of Copyrights

The Registrar of Copyrights has the powers of a civil court when trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure in respect of the following matters, namely,

  • summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining him on oath;

  • requiring the discovery and production of any document;

  • receiving evidence on affidavit;

  • issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents;

  • requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;

  • any other matters which may be prescribed.

Infringement of Copyright

Copyright in a work is considered as infringed only if a substantial part is made use of unauthorizedly. What is ‘substantial’ varies from case to case. More often than not, it is a matter of quality rather than quantity.

For example, if a lyricist copy a very catching phrase from another lyricist’s song, there is likely to be infringement even if that phrase is very short.

The following are some of the commonly known acts involving infringement of copyright:

  • Making infringing copies for sale or hire or selling or letting them for hire;

  • Permitting any place for the performance of works in public where such performance constitutes infringement of copyright;

  • Distributing infringing copies for the purpose of trade or to such an extent so as to affect prejudicially the interest of the owner of copyright ;

  • Public exhibition of infringing copies by way of trade; and

  • Importation of infringing copies into India.

A copyright owner can take legal action against any person who infringes the copyright and is entitled to remedies by way of injunctions, damages and accounts.

Penalty for infringement and the status of the infringing copies

The minimum punishment for infringement of copyright is imprisonment for six months with the minimum fine of Rs. 50,000/-. In the case of a second and subsequent conviction the minimum punishment is imprisonment for one year and fine of Rs. one lakh.

All infringing copies of any work in which copyright subsists and all plates used or intended to be used for the production of such infringing copies shall be deemed to be the property of the owner of the copyright.


  • If for a profit a person permits anyone to use any place to be used for the communication of a work to the public, and which constitutes an infringement of the copyright, he will be deemed to have committed an offence under the Copyright Act, unless he was not aware and had no reasonable ground to believe that such communication to the public would be an infringement of copyright.

  • Every person who at the time the offence was committed was in charge of, and was responsible to the company for, the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company shall be deemed to be guilty of such offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against.


The enactment of the Copyright Act, 1957, Copyrights Rules, 1958 and the amendments thereto protects the interests of the creators of intellectual property while protecting the interests of the public at large.



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