India – Copyright And Designs Act Harmonized

In India, original artistic works may sometimes fall under the Designs Act and the Copyrights Act. This overlap has been much debated and has come up for adjudication several times before the courts. In a recent case, the Copyright Board made some pertinent observations, especially with respect to artistic works produced by the application of an industrial process.

In the case in question, Anant Oil Industries vs New Nandi Seeds Corporation and Another [2009 (41) PTC 736 (CB)], Anant Oil Industries sought expunction of certain copyright registrations citing Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act, which states that copyright in any design that is capable of registration under the Design Act but has not been so registered, shall cease as soon as the design has been reproduced more than 50 times in an industrial process with the consent of the copyright owner. Anant Oil Industries argued that by reproducing the artistic work in question through an industrial process, the copyright owner had lost the protection under the protective umbrella under the Copyright Act and the design had become a subject matter of the Design Act.

New Nandi Seeds, on the other hand, questioned the standing of Anant Oil Industries to challenge the validity of the copyright. It asserted that it had legally obtained ownership of the copyright through assignment and hence, it was well within its rights to use the copyright in any form including commercialization through an industrial process.

The Copyright Board considered the relevant sections of the two Acts, their respective preambles as well as few precedential judgments before concluding that the legislative intent was to grant a higher protection to pure original artistic works such as paintings and sculptures and lesser protection to design activity, which is commercial in nature. The Board observed that this is precisely the reason why the legislature not only limited the protection of an artistic work (by mandating that the copyright shall cease under the Copyright Act in a registered design), but also deprived copyright protection to designs capable of being registered under the Designs Act, but not so registered, as soon as the concerned design had been applied more than 50 times by industrial process by the copyright owner or licensee thereof.

Ruling in favor of Anant Oil Industries, the Board ordered expungement of the relevant copyright entries from the Register and stated that as the artistic work in question is a design capable of protection if the threshold limit (of its application on an article by an industrial process for more than 50 times) had not been reached. But since that limit was crossed, the artistic work should lose protection under the Copyright Act. The Board remarked that this interpretation would harmonise the Copyright and Designs Act in accordance with the legislative intent.