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What Are Authors’ Moral Rights?


Copyright primarily concerns itself with the ‘rights of the authors’ which means that the author’s (term used here to represent a wide array of artistic creators) original work is his or her personal property, and others are not permitted to use it without permission.

In addition to economic rights that are transferrable, Copyright has a category of rights called moral rights, which safeguard the author’s reputation. These moral rights remain with the author even if the author has signed over economic rights to other parties. Ie, if one obtains permission to utilize a copyrighted work, they must take steps to ensure that the author’s moral rights are protected in the course of exercising their transferred economic rights.

Moral Rights are, generally speaking, not as thoroughly defined in law as economic rights. The basic concept is that the author has the right to protect the original work’s integrity, which varies subjectively from work to work as well as across jurisdictions. Generally speaking, civil law countries give more importance to moral rights than common law countries. But, even within that, there are variations.

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Legal Provisions for Moral Rights

Paternity and Integrity are recognized as moral rights under Article 6bis of the Berne convention. However, they are not a mandated part of the TRIPS Agreement, leaving different nations to integrate these laws into their provision as per their discretion.

These rights are distinct from and complementary to the author’s pecuniary rights. Unlike in the USA, where the VARA (Visual Artists Rights Act) provisions confine moral rights to artistic works, India makes no distinction between different types of work when conferring moral rights.

The provisions that relate to moral rights in India are included in the Indian Copyright Act of 1957. While these rights are not called “moral rights’ per se, they are in effect protections to the authors’ integrity that remain in force even after the economic rights may be signed away.

Indian law confers two distinct moral rights to authors via Section 57 of the Act. First is the right to claim authorship of the work, regardless of whose position the work is in at the time. Second is the right to integrity, where the author can restrain or claim damages in respect to any distortion of their work that may be prejudicial to their honor or reputation.

Section 38B of the Act provides similar rights to performers. This is partly in accordance with the WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty (1996) and the Beijing Treaty on Audio-Visual Performances (2012).

The only exception to moral rights in India are computer program copies, as recognized by the fair dealing clauses in Section 52.

Amar Nath Sehgal and the Right to Integrity

Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India (2005) is regarded as a significant moment in the history of moral rights.

In this case, the plaintiff made a bronze mural that was displayed in Delhi’s International Convention Hall for two decades before being removed and placed in a warehouse. Improper handling of the mural during this process also resulted in some damage to the work. The plaintiff consequently filed suit against the Government of India.

The Delhi High Court concluded that Section 57 should be interpreted broadly to include the destruction of a work of art, which is the most extreme kind of mutilation. The Court made a few other observations, such as destruction diminishing the volume of the author’s creative corpus and consequently harming his reputation. The Court also granted damages worth 5 lakhs to the plaintiff.

Other Moral Rights Cases in Indian Law

Other case laws have also resulted in more nuanced interpretations of Section 57.

In Sartaj Singh vs Gurbani Media Private Limited, it was stated that a voluntary waiver of moral rights is not against public policy and that voluntariness needs to be determined based on the facts available on record.

In Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd, the plaintiff protested against the adaptation of their novel into a movie with a lot of modifications. In this case, the Court held that the modifications should not be so much that it shows no resemblance to the original work, and ordered necessary amendments to the adaptation before it could be filmed.

The Courts have also imposed limitations on moral rights, specifically in the case of architectural works. In Raj Rewal v Union of India & Ors, held that the Architect plaintiff could not stop the demolition of one of his buildings for the construction of a new building on the basis of his moral rights.  

Author: Ayush Agrawal, Intern at PA Legal.

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