The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently quashed a public notice issued by Registrar of Copyrights which permitted sound recordings to be played during religious ceremonies and wedding processions without obtaining a license from the copyright owner [Novex Communications Private Limited v. Union of India & Anr.].
Single-judge Justice Raj Mohan Singh ruled that the notice granting such a general exemption violates the protections granted to copyright owners under the Copyright Act.
“The public notice seeks to impinge upon the fundamental rights and protections granted by the Constitution of India and is violative of Articles 13 and 14 of the Constitution. The protections granted by Copyright Act are sought to be abridged by the public notice which is unsustainable,” the Court held.
The Court was hearing a writ petition filed by Novex Communications Private Limited, a company owning copyright over large number of sound recordings of well-known music labels like Zee, Eros, Tips etc.
The notice dated August 27, 2019, issued by the Registrar of Copyrights (respondent) interpreted Section 52(1) za of the Copyright Act to mean that utilisation of any sound recording during religious ceremony or marriage ceremony would not amount to infringement of copyright and, hence, no license would be required to play such songs during such events.
The petitioner approached the High Court contending that the such an interpretation to codified law falls under judicial domain or by way of clarification and amendment under legislative domain.
It was, therefore, contended that the respondent does not have the jurisdiction to embark upon a legislative task.
The Court at the outset noted that the issue of whether sound recordings can be played during social functions like weddings, is no longer res integra (not examined/ decided) and has been settled by various judgments including M/s Phonographic Performance Ltd. v. State of Punjab.
The single-judge further said that Section 52 exempts live performances of such works when there is no commercial purpose and when there is no admission charge and are used exclusively for educational, religious or charitable purposes and not for any financial gain.
Thus, the question of whether certain acts would fall within the exempted categories as enumerated under Section 52(1) of the Act has to be decided according to facts of each case, the Court said.
There cannot be a general exemption for marriages and related functions under section 52(1) za of the Copyright Act and in cases where such exploitation was for commercial purposes, the owners would be entitled to both civil as well as criminal remedies under the Act, the Court judge underscored.
“The question whether certain acts would fall within the exempted categories as enumerated under Section 52(1) of the Act has to be decided according to facts of each case. In view of aforesaid, there cannot be general interpretation to the provision as given in the impugned public notice/letter,” the order stated.
It was further observed that the public notice under challenge could be used by notorious elements to play sound recordings for commercial gains in commercial spaces.
Further, the Court said that the Registrar of Copyright had no authority to issue such a notice since he does not have the authority under the Copyright Act to clarify or interpret the applicability of the law.
“The impugned public notice was also violative of the doctrine of separation of power as an attempt had been made by respondent No.2 to usurp the legislative power of enactment and judicial power of interpretation,” the Court said.
Besides, it infringes the right of the petitioner under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India and overrules the provisions of copyright, the judge said while quashing the notice.
The petitioner was represented by Senior Advocate Gaurav Chopra briefed by MPS Legal offices’ Jasdeep Singh Dhillon and Harinder Bains.
The Union government was represented by advocate Sudhir Nar.