India – Copyright Societies Expand Role

Under the Copyrights Act 1957 copyright societies are authorised to grant licences for copyrighted works. No other person except the owner of the work or a copyright society can grant a licence. A copyright society has the task of collective management of the rights of the owners and furthers their interests to prevent infringement of their works, in India as well as abroad. As India is a member of international conventions, the copyright societies in India can have reciprocal arrangements with organisations in other countries for collection of royalties for use of Indian works in these countries. Again, the owners have to withdraw the licence bestowed on the copyright society without prejudice to the rights of the society. In India, copyright societies like IPRS, PPL, SCRIPT have been protecting and managing the rights of the owners for musical, sound recording and cinematographic works respectively.

In March 2009, the Division Bench of Delhi High Court in the landmark case of PPL v Hotel Gold Regency ruled that copyright societies possess the right to sue on behalf of their members for copyright violation. The court said that the society steps into the shoes of the owner when it gets such and authorisation, to protect the work from infringement by taking the erring party to court.

Recently, in IPRS Ltd. V Hotel Goa Marriott Resort, the Delhi High Court ordered the hotel to pay the arrears of licence fees before it can play the sound recordings, for which the IPRS was managing the copyright. IPRS grants licences and collects music royalties. The hotel had stated that it had sought the licence separately from various broadcasters and hence was entitled to play the music. However, the court ordered that Rs5,16,730.50 be paid together with the undertaking that, if IPRS fails in the final suit, the amount shall be repaid.

The society was considered by the court to have every right to file suit against the defendant for the non payment of licence fee. The court also passed and interim ex parte injunction in favour of IPRS. The claim of Hotel Goa Marriot that IPRS was leveraging its dominance in the market was considered to be redundant. It is essential to see that the area of operation of copyright is expanding and that the protective cover should also extend its arms to prevent unauthorised use of copyrighted works, whether in print, on the internet or in other digital media. Moreover, Section 35 of the Copyright Act provides for collective control over the copyright society by the owners, requiring approval of owners for its procedures of collection and distribution of fees.

The case shows that the copyright regime in India is getting stronger with payment of licence fees and renewal of licence becoming imperative before any multichannel music can be played by hotels and other establishments