3.1 Judicial Backdrop to the Amendments
An oft-used argument by producers of cinematograph films to deny royalties to authors related to the commissioned status of the works created by such authors. A work is considered to be “commissioned” under the Act if it is created at the instance of another person. Section 17 of the Act encapsulates the principle of “commissioned” works. The relevant portion of the erstwhile provision as it read prior to the amendments in 2012 is reproduced below:
(b) subject to the provision of clause (a), in the case of a photograph taken, or a painting or portrait drawn, or an engraving or a cinematograph film made, for valuable consideration at the instance of any person, such person shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright therein.Footnote 7
The provision operated to vest first ownership of the identified classes of works in the person who extended “valuable consideration” and at whose “instance” the cinematograph film was made.Footnote 8 Since one of the enumerated classes of works was cinematograph films, producers of such works argued that the entire copyright in the underlying works, such as musical works and literary works, incorporated in a cinematograph film, was owned by the producer by virtue of the qualifying status of the film as a commissioned work. It is perhaps apposite to explain here that under the Indian copyright laws, authorship and ownership of a work are bifurcated. An author of a work may not be the first owner of the work in all instances. The general proposition is that the author is also the first owner of the work. However, this general principle is defeated in cases of a work created in the course of employment and in the cases of commissioned works.Footnote 9 Producers of cinematograph films used the “commissioned” status of the films to argue that by implication, authors were also divested of their right to receive royalties, in conjunction with the copyright in their works, to the producer of the film who would be deemed the first owner of the film including all works incorporated therein. The stance employed by the producers was bolstered by a decision of the Supreme Court of India in Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. v. Eastern India Motion Pictures Association.Footnote 10 The Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS)Footnote 11 instituted an appeal against the order of the Calcutta High Court which held that the producer of a film could oust the first ownership of the literary or musical works incorporated in a cinematograph film, by the authors of such works, in cases where the film constituted a commissioned work under Section 17(b) of the Act:
In our opinion, therefore, when a composer of lyric or music composes for the first time for valuable consideration for purposes of a cinematograph film, the owner of the film at whose instance the composition is made, becomes the first owner of the copyright in the composition. The composer acquires no copyright at all either in respect of the film or its sound track which he is capable of assigning.Footnote 12
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Calcutta High Court. The Supreme Court held that when a literary or musical work is commissioned by a producer for incorporation in a cinematograph film, the copyright in the entire film, including the underlying literary and musical works, vests with the producer by virtue of Section 17 of the Act:
This takes us to the core of the question namely, whether the producer of a cinematograph film can defeat the right of the composer of music … or lyricist by engaging him. The key to the solution of this question lies in provisos (b) and (c) to section 17 of the Act reproduced above which put the matter beyond doubt. According to the first of these provisos viz. proviso (b) when a cinematograph film producer commissions a composer of music or a lyricist for reward or valuable consideration for the purpose of making his cinematograph film, or composing music or lyric therefore i.e. the sounds for incorporation or absorption in the sound track associated with the film, which as already indicated, are included in a cinematograph film, he becomes the first owner of the copyright therein and no copyright subsists in the composer of the lyric or music so composed unless there is a contract to the contrary between the composer of the lyric or music on the one hand and the producer of the cinematograph film on the other…. It is, therefore, crystal clear that the rights of a music composer or… lyricist can be defeated by the producer of a cinematograph film in the manner laid down in provisos (b) and (c) of section 17 of the Act.Footnote 13
The argument adopted by producers was clearly anomalous given that the “right to receive royalties” is not recognized by the Act as a right flowing from the copyright in a work. Section 14 of the ActFootnote 14 details the rights that are construed to be included in the copyright in a work. The right to receive royalties is conspicuously absent from rights enumerated in Section 14. Hence, the right to receive royalties is deducible from the factum of authorship, i.e., it is attendant upon the authorship of a work and not the copyright in a work.
Further, the argument also overlooks the distinction created between the various classes of works in Section 13 of the Act. Section 13 clarifies that literary works, musical works, cinematograph films, and sound recordings are separate classes of works and copyright subsists in each work. The erstwhile Section 17(b) of the Act refers to the commissioning of a cinematograph film, not the independent works that are incorporated in it. The cinematograph film, as a whole, is owned by the person who commissioned it. Conceptually, the provision is inextricably linked to the distinction between the author and the first owner of a work under the Act. Section 2(d)Footnote 15 of the Act states that the author of a cinematograph film is the producer of the film. However, by virtue of Section 17(b), the first owner of the cinematograph film could be a person other than the producer, i.e., the person at whose instance and consideration the film was made.
The bifurcation becomes clear when the definitions in the Act are viewed in the context of the reality of film production
deals in India. Section 2(uu)Footnote 16 of the Act defines a “producer” as a person who takes the initiative and responsibility for making the cinematograph film. The structure of film production deals in India involves multiple parties, frequently commencing at the instance of an entity that possesses the financial resources to commission the development of the film, and this entity usually delegates the responsibility of completing the film to a production house. Since the production house assumes the actual responsibility and initiative for making the film, the production house is recognized as the “producer” under Section 2(uu) of the Act. Conversely, given that the film is made at the instance of and with the aid of the consideration advanced by the financing entity, this entity is ultimately construed to be the “first owner” of the film under Section 17 of the Act.
While the law reflects the realities of film production in India through conferring appropriate legal status on the various parties involved, the argument advanced by producers and related entities conflates the cinematograph film with the literary and musical works incorporated in it. Ostensibly, the literary and musical works are created for incorporation in the film. However, as stated earlier, under Section 13 of the Act, each work constitutes a separate and independent work. Section 14 delineates the various rights associated with the copyright in each work. Hence, while the cinematograph film in totality is owned by the person that commissioned it, the various works comprised in it continue to retain their independent status and would continue to be owned by the author unless expressly assigned to the producer or the commissioning entity by the author. It is arguable to presuppose that to the extent that the literary and musical works are synchronized in the cinematograph film, they are owned by the commissioning entity to the extent of their synchronization, but to extend the argument to all other rights devolving from the copyright in a work would be counterintuitive to the independent status afforded to each class of work under the Act.Footnote 17
A similar question was raised in Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. v. Aditya Pandey & Ors.,Footnote 18 wherein the Delhi High Court considered whether the underlying literary and musical works are also performed each time that a sound recording is performed. The court concluded that when a sound recording is communicated to the public, there is no separate communication of the underlying literary and musical works, since the sound recording fuses the underlying works during the process of production of the eventual sound recording:
when a sound recording is communicated to the public by whatever means, it is the whole “work” i.e. the lyrics, the score, the collocation of sounds caused by the equipment and the capturing of the entire aural experience which is communicated. The musical or literary work, which is the subject matter of the copyright under Section 14(a) of the Act, per se is not communicated or broadcast; nor is there a method of separating that element, while communicating the entire work, i.e. the sound recording, to the public. The recognition afforded by the Parliament to the content of sound recording itself suggests that the content of a sound recording is perceived in law, as different from that of a musical or literary work, though there may be a coalescence of the two, but not necessarily so, all the time. It is, therefore, unjustified to say that when a sound recording is communicated to the public by way of a broadcast the musical and literary work is also communicated to the public, through the sound recording.
The Delhi High Court hence ruled that a separate license is not required to be procured each time that the sound recording is communicated to the public since there is no separate communication of the underlying literary and musical works. The court also discussed the counteractive provision contained in Section 13(4) of the Act, which essentially states that the copyright in a cinematograph film or a sound recording has no effect on the separate copyright comprised in the underlying works that form a part of the cinematograph film or sound recording.Footnote 19 The court, however, dismissed the argument that the clarification enunciated in Section 13(4) could be interpreted to posit a requirement that a separate license from the authors of the underlying literary and musical works would have to be procured each time that a sound recording is communicated. The court’s decision was reached based on the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. v. Eastern India Motion Pictures AssociationFootnote 20:
In other words, the author (composer) of a lyric or musical work who has authorised a cinematograph film producer to make a cinematograph film of his work and has thereby permitted him to appropriate his work by incorporating or recording it on the sound track of a cinematograph film cannot restrain the author (owner) of the film from causing the acoustic portion of the film to be performed or projected or screened in public for profit or from making any record embodying the recording in any part of the sound track associated with the film by utilising such sound track or from communicating or authorising the communication of the film by radio-diffusion, as Section 14(1)(c) of the Act expressly permits the owner of the copyright of the cinematograph film to do all these things.
Recently, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Delhi High Court in Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. v. Aditya Pandey & Ors., with an additional stipulation that subsequent to the enactment of the amendments to the Act in 2012, the authors of literary and musical works incorporated in sound recordings would remain entitled to receive an equal share of royalties accruing from the utilization of the sound recordings.Footnote 21
3.2 The Problems with Copyright Societies in India
The amendments enacted in 2012 were also devised as reactionary measures to the denial of royalties and mismanagement of copyright societies in India by music labels. The parliamentary report on the Copyright (Amendment
) Bill, 2010, noted the following in relation to the division of interests and inefficient functioning of copyright societies:
The Committees notes that there are inherent problems in the administration and functioning of copyright societies which have been continuing since long. Situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the owners of works/music companies are dominating these societies denying equity shares to the performers/authors. The basic reason for such a dismal scenario is obviously entirely different considerations and interests of the owners and authors.Footnote 22
The primary copyright societies in India are the IPRS, which grants licenses for and collects and distributes royalties in respect of literary and musical works, and the Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), which deals with rights in sound recordings. There was, and continues to remain, a clear demarcation between the repertoire of works managed by both the societies. While the IPRS managed the literary and musical works underlying sound recordings, the PPL managed the sound recording itself. However, the music labels which controlled the PPL, as owners of sound recordings, succeeded in ousting the authors of literary and musical works from the governing body of the IPRS, leading to an establishment of control over both the IPRS and PPL by the music labels.Footnote 23
Following the exclusion of authors from the governing body of the IPRS, the payment of royalties to authors effectively ceased. A series of notices were addressed by the government to the IPRS demanding an explanation on the cessation of the payment of royalties to authors:
The undersigned is directed to forward a complaint dated 20.12.2010 and 26.12.2010 received by this Ministry from 28 authors and music composers regarding illegalities with respect to administration of Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) and non-disbursement of royalties due to them. It has been alleged in the above complaints by these authors and music composers that IPRS is illegally distributing the royalties due to them to its other members.Footnote 24
The emergence of new modes of exploitation of works exacerbated the issues of the authors. With the rise in popularity of ringtones, authors expected a concomitant increase in the royalties since each time that a ringtone was utilized, royalties were payable to the authors of the literary and musical works and to the owners of such works.Footnote 25 However, the IPRS claimed that it had assigned the right to grant rights with respect to the utilization of works for ringtones to the PPL, which was managed by music labels:
Sometime in 2004, IPRS inexplicably and certainly at the behest of its Music Company members decided to terminate existing mobile distribution agreements executed with third party aggregators. It was discovered much later that the said rights were in fact handed over completely without sanction of the author or composer members to the Phonographic Performance Limited or PPL as it is referred to normally and/or the Indian Music Industry or IMI which is the association of the Music Companies.Footnote 26