India – Exclusive Fashion Gets Copyright Protection

A recent case at the Delhi High Court has dealt with the overlap between copyright and design protection and its application to the fashion industry in India. The questions addressed by the case were, firstly , whether drawings or sketches are artistic works and, secondly, whether the object or commercial intention be tested while applying Section 15 of the Copyright Act 1957, which bars copyright protection in drawings which are repeated more than fifty times.

In Rajesh Marani v Tahiliani Design Pvt Ltd, FAO (OS) no 393/2008, the designer alleged a colorable imitation of his fabric prints by the appellant which were copied on a CD, including the underlying sketches, and asked for a permanent injunction asserting that his sketches were artistic works under the Copyright Act. It was claimed that garments or accessories themselves are works of artistic craftsmanship under the Act and the patterns printed or embroidered on the fabric are also artistic works in their own right.

The defendant argued that as the designs were not registered under the Design Act 2000 and as the artistic work for which copyright is alleged to exist is actually a design, which comes under the purview of the Design Act, no copyright protection was available. Further, they contended that textile designs do not constitute artistic work under the Act and are excluded from protection.

The Court decided that the definition of design under the Designs Act does not include artistic work as defined in Copyright Act. So the exclusion from copyright protection does not apply if any party is able to bring his case within the framework of the Copyright Act. Following this, the court held that the plaintiffs’ work was an original artistic work and entitled for protection under the Copyright Act.

As for the defendant’s arguments that the motifs and designs being used on the fabric were made by an industrial process and would not stand as a piece of art by itself and so had to be registered as a design, the court clarified that although the designs were capable of being registered under the Designs Act, they still enjoyed copyright protection since they were not repeated more than fifty times.

The case again brings to the fore the interface between copyright and design protection, which has special relevance in the fashion industry and confirms that limited edition designs they can be considered artistic works and enjoy copyright protection as long as less than fifty copies are produced.