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This article is written by Megha Arora of 5th Semester of Department of Laws, Panjab University, Chandigarh, an intern under Legal Vidhiya.


The article provides a comprehensive overview of copyright law in India, tracing its historical evolution from pre-independence to post-independence eras. It delves into the fundamental principles of copyright, ownership, rights of copyright holders, and the term of copyright protection. The piece also discusses the intricacies of copyright registration and the consequences of copyright infringement, both civil and criminal.

Furthermore, the article highlights recent developments in Indian copyright law, particularly the Copyright (Amendment) Rules, 2021, which aimed to modernize copyright practices and enhance transparency.

This article underscores the vital role of copyright law in protecting the rights of creators and authors, fostering innovation, and maintaining a delicate balance between the interests of creators and the public. It serves as a valuable resource for anyone seeking a comprehensive understanding of copyright law in India.


Copyright Law, Intellectual Property, Copyright Act, Copyright Infringement, Copyright Registration, Exclusive Rights, Fair Use, Copyright Term, International Agreements, Digital Rights Management, Intermediary Liability, WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), Derivative Works, Copyright Protection, Copyright Principles, Copyright Assignment, Copyright Infringement, Copyright Amendment Rules 2021.


Copyright law is an essential aspect of Intellectual Property protection, which protects the rights of the creators and the authors over the work produced by their intellectual labour. The purpose of copyright law is to give legal protection and grant exclusive rights to the creators and authors over their work, the ability to govern how others use those works and prevent the reproduction, sale, or any other act over their work without the consent of the owner of the copyright in that work for a certain period of time. It also permits the owner of the copyright to assigned the copyright of the work either wholly or partial to any other person. Additionally, by defending the rights of creators and authors, it encourages them to invest time and effort in producing new and valuable works.


Copyright is a form of legal protection that safeguards the creative expressions of authors and creators, bestowing upon them exclusive rights over their expressions rather than the underlying ideas. According to the Copyright Act, copyright is defined as the exclusive authority to perform or grant permission for specific actions related to their work or a significant portion of it. It is a form of intellectual property protection that ensures the rights of creators are honoured and that they may profit from their businesses.

In the case, Sulmanglam R. Jayalakshmi v. Meta Musical[1], the Madras High Court established that “copyright” pertains to the rights an individual gains in their intellectual work, be it literary or artistic.



In India, copyright law existed even prior to the independence from British colonial rule, India’s copyright law was influenced by British legislation. The copyright law in India can be traced to the Indian Copyright Act 1847, which marked the initial legal framework for copyright protection in India.

The Indian Copyright Act of 1847 was introduced during the rule of the East India Company. Subsequently, the Imperial Copyright Act of 1911 from the United Kingdom was extended to India as part of the British dominion. Then in 1914, the Indian legislature enacted the Indian Copyright Act of 1914, which was the modified version of the Imperial Copyright Act of 1911 for its application in India.


After Independence in 1947, there was a need to establish a copyright framework that aligned with the nation’s cultural and creative aspirations. Consequently, the Indian Parliament enacted the Copyright Act of 1957. The Copyright Act, 1957 of India replaced both the Indian Copyright Act of 1914 and the Copyright Act of 1911, as it had been adapted for India through the Indian Copyright Act. The Copyright Act, 1957 not only continued to protect literary, musical, and artistic works but also introduced concepts such as the public domain and copyright duration.


Over the years, the Copyright Act has undergone several amendments to adapt to changing technologies and international agreements. Amendments occurred notably in 1983, 1984, 1992, and 2012, reflected India’s efforts to adapt to technological advancements, address emerging challenges in the digital age, and fulfill international treaty obligations.


In the late 1990s, India became a signatory to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). To comply with TRIPS obligations, India amended its copyright law in 1999. The amendments extended copyright protection to computer programs and digital works and introduced provisions on anti-circumvention measures.


In recent years, India has actively participated in international copyright treaties to harmonize its copyright law with global standards. Notably, India signed the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) in 2018, promoting the protection of digital content and performers’ rights.


The rapid growth of the internet and digital technologies necessitated further changes to copyright law. The Copyright Amendment Act of 2012 and 2017 addressed issues related to digital rights management, online infringement, and intermediary liability. It also included provisions for the benefit of authors and performers, such as the right to receive royalties and the termination of assignments.


The Copyright law is built on a set of fundamental principles that continue to guide its development and implementation.

  1. Originality: In the realm lf Copyright Law, one of the key requirements for a work to be eligible for copyright protection is originality. This means that the work must be the result of the author’s creative effort and not a mere copy of existing materials.
  2. Fixed Form: Copyright law also mandates that the work must be fixed in a tangible medium to be eligible for protection. This can include writing, recording, or saving in digital format. Ideas themselves are not protected; it’s the expression of those ideas that is safeguarded.
  3. Exclusive Rights: Copyright Law grants creators or copyright holders a set of exclusive rights, including the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, and assign their work. These rights enable creators to control how their creations are used, except for cases like fair use or other legally allowed exceptions.
  4. Limited Duration: Copyright protection has a limited duration, granting the copyright holder exclusive rights for a specific period, which varies by location. Typically, it extends for the author’s lifetime plus an additional 50 to 70 years. In India, these rights endure for the author’s lifetime and an additional 60 years after their death. After this timeframe, the work becomes accessible to the public, available for use by everyone.
  5. Fair Use: Copyright law also includes the concept of fair use, permitting restricted use of copyrighted material without explicit permission. This allowance applies to purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, and research. Fair use is a nuanced and context-dependent concept, involving considerations like the purpose and nature of the use, the copyrighted work’s characteristics, the amount used, and its impact on the market.


There are certain types of works upon which the right of copyright is granted. Following are the works which can be copyrighted:

  1. Artistic Work: It is define under section 2(c) of the Copyright Act, 1957. This category includes visual creations like paintings, drawings, sculptures, engravings, photographs, and graphic designs. It also includes work of architecture. Copyright protects the original expression and arrangement of these visual works.

In the case, Associated Publishers Madras Ltd  v. K. Bashyam Alias ‘Arya’[2], Madras High Court held that “artistic work” under section 2(c) includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, and photographs and works of architecture etc.

2. Cinematographic Film: It is defined under section 2(f) of the Copyright Act, 1957. A cinematographic film means any visual recording created through a process that captures a moving image alongside the visual content. The term “cinematographic” is understood to encompass any work produced through processes similar to cinematography, including video films.

In the case, Raj Video Vision v. K. Mohana Krishnan,[3] the Madras High Court determined that both video and television fall under the definition of ‘cinematograph’ as defined in Section 2(f) of the Copyright Act, 1957.

In another case, Fortune Films v. Dev Anand[4], the Bombay High Court ruled that the definition of ‘cinematograph film’ encompasses not only the film itself but also the accompanying soundtrack.

3. Dramatic Work: It is defined under section 2(h) of the Copyright Act, 1957. Dramatic Work is defined as any form of recitation, choreographic performance, or entertainment conveyed through actions, with the arrangement or performance being documented in writing or other forms. However, it does not include a cinematographic film.

4. Literary Work: It is defined under section 2(o) of the Copyright Act, 1957. Literary works includes computer programmes, tables and compilation including computer database.

Computer” includes any electronic or similar device having information processing capabilities.

Computer programme” means a set of instruction expressed in words, codes, schemes or in any other form including a machine readable medium, capable of causing a computer to perform a particular task or achieve a particular result.

In the case, Diljeet Titus, Advocate v. Alfred A. Adebare[5], The Delhi High Court held that compilation for the list of the clients of the law firm are within the definition of literary work defined under section 2(o) of the Copyright Act 1957.

In the case,  Fateh Singh Mehta v. O.P. Singhal[6], The Rajasthan High Court held that the literary work includes “dissertation” submitted by a student.

5. Musical Work: It is defined under section 2(p) of the Copyright Act, 1957. Musical work composition of primarily composed of music and may include graphical notations but excludes any verbal or performative elements intended to accompany the music.

In the case, Indian Performing Rights Society v. Eastern India Motion Picture Association[7], the Supreme Court determined that “musical work” as defined in section 2(p) encompasses any arrangement of melody and harmony, whether in written form or graphically represented.

6. Sound Recording: It is defined under section 2(xx) of the Copyright Act, 1957. Sound recording means the recording of sounds from which such sounds may be produced regardless of the medium on which such recording is made or the method by which the sounds are produced.[8]


The Copyright Law also establishes that the author of the work is the first copyright owner of the work. While the author is generally the first owner of copyright, The Copyright Act outlines circumstances where someone other than the author may be the first owner, creating two distinct categories of first owners.

  1. Author as the first owner : Unless otherwise provided in the law, author is the first owner of the copyright of a work.

Author means:

i. In the case of literary or dramatic work, the author,

ii. In the case of musical work, the composer,

iii. In the case of creative work apart from photography, the artist,

iv. In the case of photographic work, the person taking the photograph,

v. In the case of cinematographic or recording work, the producer,

vi. In case of any work generated by any computer virus, the person who created.

2. Any other person as the first owner other than the author:

i. When an author creates content while employed by the owner of a newspaper, magazine, or periodical, the proprietor of that publication,

ii. When a photograph is taken, a painting or portrait is created, or a cinematograph is produced for a fee, the person who pays for it,

iii. If a work is produced during an author’s employment under a service contract, the employer,

iv. When an address or speech is delivered publicly on behalf of someone else, that person,

v. For government works, the government,

vi. For works carried out under the direction and control of a public entity, that public undertaking,

vii. For works of the relevant international organizations.


Copyright holders have several rights, including:

  1. Reproduction Right: This is the fundamental right that allows the copyright holder to make copies of their work. It includes creating physical copies, such as books or DVDs, and digital copies, like e-books or digital downloads.
  2. Distribution Right: This right allows the copyright holder to control the distribution of their work to the public. It involves decisions about how and where copies of the work are made available, such as selling books in bookstores or distributing music through streaming platforms.
  3. Public Performance Right: This right pertains to public presentations or performances of the work. For example, musicians have the exclusive right to perform their songs in public concerts, and theaters must obtain permission to stage plays or movies.
  4. Public Display Right: This right relates to the visual representation of a copyrighted work. It is often relevant in the context of visual arts, where artists have control over how their paintings, sculptures, or photographs are displayed in public exhibitions or galleries.
  5. Derivative Work Right: Copyright holders can decide whether others can create derivative works based on their original work. Derivative works include adaptations, translations, parodies, remixes, or any new creations built upon the original material.
  6. Moral Rights: Moral rights are more prevalent in certain countries and provide authors with the right to be attributed as the author of their work, to object to derogatory treatment of their work (such as distortion or mutilation), and sometimes the right to control the disclosure of their work. These rights protect the integrity and reputation of the creator.[9]


The Copyright Law also outlines the duration of copyright protection for various types of works as follows:

  1. Copyright for literary, dramatic, artistic, and musical works lasts:
  • Throughout the author’s lifetime, and
  • For sixty years from the start of the calendar year following the author’s death.

2. Copyright extends for sixty years from the beginning of the calendar year following publication for the following types of works:

  • Posthumous works
  • Cinematograph films
  • Sound recordings
  • Government works
  • Works of public undertakings
  • Works of International Organizations


The Copyright Law allows the owner of a work’s copyright to transfer some or all of those rights to another person. This can also apply to future works, but for such assignments, they only become effective once the future work is created.

In this context, the person assigning the copyright is called the “assignor,” and the recipient is the “assignee.” The act also specifies that if the assignee passes away before the future work is created, their legal representatives inherit the rights. The assignee, to whom the copyright is transferred, is recognized as the owner of those specific rights under the Copyright Act of 1957.[10]


According to Copyright Law, following conditions are necessary for a valid assignment:

1. The assignment must be documented in writing.

2. It should bear the signature of the assignor or their duly authorized representative.

3. The assignment must clearly outline the work being transferred.

4. It should also specify the exact rights being transferred through the assignment.

5. The assignment should define its duration and geographic scope as follows:

   i. In cases where the period isn’t specified, it’s assumed to be five years from the date of assignment.

   ii. If the territorial extent isn’t specified, it’s presumed to cover India.

6. The assignment should detail any royalties payable to the author or their legal heirs during the assignment’s validity.

7. The assignment can be revised, extended, or terminated according to mutually agreed-upon terms between the parties involved.[11]


Copyrights are registered by the Registrar of Copyrights in accordance with the Copyright Act, 1957.

According to the law any person is eligible to request copyright registration include:

  1. The original author
  2. Publishers
  3. Copyright owners
  4. Any other party with a vested interest in the copyright.

To initiate the registration process, an application must be submitted using the prescribed form, along with the necessary fees.

Upon receiving the application, the Registrar of Copyrights carries out an examination. And if the Registrar deems it appropriate, they enter the work’s particulars into the Register of Copyrights which is maintained at the copyright office. It contains information such as the names and addresses of authors, publishers, and copyright proprietors, along with any other required details.


Copyright infringement is essentially a violation of the rights of the copyright owner, as it involves unauthorized actions that the law grants exclusively to the copyright holder.

In a case, K.I. George v. C. Cheriyan[12], Kerela High Court noted that copyright infringement occurs when someone engages in an action exclusively reserved for the copyright owner according to the law. It’s important to understand that infringement doesn’t require an exact replica of the original work; substantial resemblance is sufficient to indicate it’s a copy.

In the Supreme Court case, R.G. Anand v. Delux Films[13], it was clarified that infringement isn’t limited to literal duplication but encompasses various ways in which the content of a work can be imitated, transferred, or reproduced with some alterations intended to mask the piracy.


Under the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, copyright infringement pertains to the unauthorized usage of copyrighted material without the copyright owner’s consent. This law provides both civil and criminal remedies for copyright violations:


  1. Injunction: The copyright holder can seek a court order to halt the infringing activities, preventing further unauthorized use of their copyrighted work.
  2. Damages or Compensation: The copyright owner can claim financial damages from the infringing party, typically based on actual losses or the infringer’s profits.
  3. Accounts and Profits: The court may require the infringing party to disclose their profits from the infringement, which can then be awarded to the copyright owner.
  4. Delivery of Infringing Copies: The court can mandate the surrender of unlawfully produced or distributed copies of the copyrighted work.
  5. Seizure and Destruction: If necessary, the court may order the seizure and destruction of infringing copies.


  1. Imprisonment: In severe copyright infringement cases, the Act permits the imprisonment of the infringer for up to three years, along with a fine.
  2. Fine: A fine can also be imposed on the infringer, either in addition to or in lieu of imprisonment.
  3. Search and Seizure: Under specific conditions, law enforcement agencies can conduct raids and seize infringing copies and related materials without a warrant.


The Copyright (Amendment) Rules, 2021, introduced several important changes to copyright regulations in India. These amendments aimed to modernize copyright practices, enhance transparency, and align with global standards. Some key provisions of the Copyright Amendment Rules, 2021, included:

1. Electronic Communication: The rules emphasized electronic means as the primary mode of communication and operation in the Copyright Office, promoting efficiency.

2. Copyrights Journal: A new provision required the publication of a copyrights journal on the official website of the Copyright Office, providing public access to copyright-related information.

3. Annual Transparency Report: Copyright Societies were mandated to prepare an Annual Transparency Report, offering insights into license refusals, royalties collected and distributed, and dealings with foreign entities. This promoted accountability.

4. Extension of Review Time: The time limit for the Registrar of Copyrights to assess and decide on applications for copyright society registration was extended from 60 to 180 days for comprehensive examination.

5. Software Registration: The amendments simplified the registration process for software. Applicants were no longer required to submit the entire “source and object code.” Instead, they needed to provide the first 10 and last 10 pages of the source code or the entire source code if it was less than 20 pages, without redacted portions.

These changes aimed to bring copyright regulations up to date, foster transparency, and facilitate smoother functioning within the Copyright Office.[14]


In conclusion, copyright law serves as a crucial pillar in protecting the rights of creators and authors, stimulating innovation and artistic expression by granting them control over their intellectual creations. This legal framework has undergone significant evolution in India, adapting to the dynamic landscape of technology, international agreements, and the digital age.

The fundamental principles of copyright law, which encompass originality, fixation in tangible form, exclusive rights, limited duration, and fair use, establish a robust foundation for the protection of creative works spanning various domains such as literature, art, music, and film.

In essence, copyright law in India, akin to other nations, plays a pivotal role in nurturing creativity, safeguarding intellectual property, and striking a balance between the interests of creators and the broader public. It remains adaptable to the ever-evolving realms of technology and artistic expression, ensuring that the fruits of human intellectual endeavors are duly acknowledged and rewarded.


  1.   Associated Publishers Madras Ltd  v. K. Bashyam Alias ‘Arya’ (AIR 1961 Mad. 114).
  2.   Raj Video Vision v. K. Mohana Krishnan (AIR 1894 Mad. 278).
  3.   Fortune Films v. Dev Anand (AIR 1979 Bom. 17).
  4. Diljeet Titus, Advocate v. Alfred A. Adebare (2006 (32) PTC 609 Del.).
  5.   Fateh Singh Mehta v. O.P. Singhal (AIR 1990 Raj. 8. Pg. 12).
  6.   Indian Performing Rights Society v. Eastern India Motion Picture Association (AIR 1977 SC 1443).
  7.   MEENU PAUL, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAWS 31, (Allahabad Law Agency, Law Publishers, Faridabad Haryana 2022).
  8. Shalu Gothi and Daisy Jain, Copyright Act, 1957, IPLEADERS, https://blog.ipleaders.in/an-overview-of-the-copyright-act-1957/#Infringement_and_remedies.
  9. Sudhi Ranjan Bagri, What Are The Rights Of Copyright Owner, IPLEADERS, https://blog.ipleaders.in/rights-copyright-owner/.  
  10. Hana Onderkova, COPYRIGHT PROTECTION IN INDIA- OVERVIEW AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS, European Commission, https://intellectual-property-helpdesk.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/copyright-protection-india-overview-and-recent-developments-2022-03-02_en#:~:text=performance%20was%20made.-,Recent%20Developments,and%20ensuring%20accountability%20and%20transparency .

[1] Sulmanglam R. Jayalakshmi v. Meta Musical (AIR 2000 Mad. 454).

[2] Associated Publishers Madras Ltd  v. K. Bashyam Alias ‘Arya’ (AIR 1961 Mad. 114).

[3] Raj Video Vision v. K. Mohana Krishnan (AIR 1894 Mad. 278).

[4] Fortune Films v. Dev Anand (AIR 1979 Bom. 17).

[5] Diljeet Titus, Advocate v. Alfred A. Adebare (2006 (32) PTC 609 Del.).

[6] Fateh Singh Mehta v. O.P. Singhal (AIR 1990 Raj. 8. Pg. 12).

[7] Indian Performing Rights Society v. Eastern India Motion Picture Association (AIR 1977 SC 1443).

[8] MEENU PAUL, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAWS 31, (Allahabad Law Agemcy, Law Publishers, Faridabad Haryana 2022).

[9] Sudhi Ranjan Bagri, What Are The Rights Of Copyright Owner, IPLEADERS, (Sept 4, 2023 05:40 p.m.) https://blog.ipleaders.in/rights-copyright-owner/.

[10] MEENU PAUL, supra note  8, at 59.

[11] Shalu Gothi and Daisy Jain, Copyright Act, 1957, IPLEADERS, (Sept 5, 2023, 11:15 a.m.) https://blog.ipleaders.in/an-overview-of-the-copyright-act-1957/#Infringement_and_remedies.

[12] K.I. George v. C. Cheriyan (AIR 1986 Ker. 12).

[13] R.G. Anand v. Delux Films (AIR 1978 SC 1613)

[14] Hana Onderkova, COPYRIGHT PROTECTION IN INDIA- OVERVIEW AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS, European Commission, https://intellectual-property-helpdesk.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/copyright-protection-india-overview-and-recent-developments-2022-03-02_en#:~:text=performance%20was%20made.-,Recent%20Developments,and%20ensuring%20accountability%20and%20transparency.


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