India – A Case Study on Copyright

In Radio Today Broadcasting Ltd v Indian Performing Rights Society 2007 (34) PTC 174 (Cal), Radio Today Broadcasting, the petitioners, plan to run a radio station through the FM band with the name Radio Today. They applied for a licence from the central government and also secured a provisional licence. The petitioners’ intent is to play both film and non-film songs on this proposed station. The dispute arose due to the fact that Radio Today was not willing to pay royalties to the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) and IPRS in turn threatened to bring a legal action for infringement of copyright.

Radio Today’s main contention was that once the song is composed and marketed through the producers, they were only required to seek permission from the producers’ society only and not from IPRS as once the song was prepared and marketed, the complete product would attract royalties and the individual performers are not entitled to such royalties. The IPRS told Radio Today that if the station played the songs, it would amount to copyright violation. Alerted by the threats, Radio Today filed a lawsuit under Section 60 of the Copyright Act, 1957, which provides for remedies in the case of groundless threats of legal proceedings.

The moot question that is addressed is whether Radio Today would be obliged to pay any royalty or licence fee to IPRS if the songs are broadcast through the radio station in addition to the licence fees paid to the producer (Phonographic Performance Limited, a society of producers).

The Court placed reliance on the Supreme Court decision in IPR Society v EIMP Association AIR 1977 SC 1443, wherein it was held that the rights of the lyricist/composer in respect of the song subsequently put in the original film track are extinguished as soon as they are paid for their work. However, they retain their right to assign it to others for commercial exploitation in other modes in cases where such rights are reserved by the agreement between him and the film producer.

The Court held that Radio Today has no case and that members of IPRS did assign their exclusive rights to the producers by agreement. Unless it is shown that such rights were assigned in favour of the members of PPL, IPR is entitled to claim royalties from Radio Today if they want to exploit the work. Accordingly, IPR’s claim for royalties was held to be well-founded and legitimate and it was held to be entitled to initiate proceedings to protect the interests of its members.

It is a fact that certain rights are difficult to protect individually. Creators of aesthetic products are vulnerable to many aspects and are often subject to exploitation. The role played by copyright societies such as IPR, has a major impact on the life of many artists. Even though copyright societies are active there are many sectors where their role is still required to be further augmented.