Historical Background of Copyright Laws

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Written by: Adv. Megha Dixit

The “statute of Anne” was the first-ever copyright law enacted in the world in the year 1710 in England. This Act introduced the concept of the copyright for the first time, where the author of work is the owner of its copyright, it also laid down a fixed term of protection for the copyright owners.

According to the provisions of this Act, copyrighted work was required to be deposited at copyright libraries, and registered at “Stationer’s Hall”. There was no automatic protection given to the unpublished works. The copyright law in India has its origin from England, back in history the first “Copyright Act of 1847” which British was introduced in India was simply an “Indian version of English Copyright Act of 1842”.

The background of Copyright in India can be divided into two phases:
i. Pre-independence copyright law in India
ii. Post-independence copyright law in India

Pre-independence copyright law in India

Copyright first entered India in 1847 through enactment by British, during the East India Company’s regime. The first-ever enactment in India related to Copyright was done by the British during the regime of East India Company. During the time of introduction of copyright law in India, the same was under development in Britain for over a century.

Therefore the provisions of this enactment were the reflection of the learning of the deliberations from that period. According to the enactment of 1847, the term of copyright was for the lifetime of the author plus seven years, but under no circumstances, total term of copyright could be exceeded for a period of more than forty-two years. The provisions of this Act were in force until the enactment of the “Copyright Act, 1914”.

Issues related to copyright have always been a subject matter of international discussion and has been regulated by various Conventions also. “The Berne Convention for Protection of Literary and Artistic Works”, a copyright treaty was first adopted at Bern, Switzerland on September 9, 1886, and was signed by India on April 1, 1928. The Convention provide certain “exclusive rights like the right to make the reproduction, communication to the public, translation and adaptation to the authors of literary & Artistic work” in the member nations.

The first “modern” copyright legislation of India was The Copyright Act of 1914, which was “a complete copy” of the English Copyright Act of 1911 with suitable modifications in it to make it, which were applicable to the then British India. This Act continued protection of Copyright in India even after years of attainment of freedom from the British government.

Post-independence copyright law in India

The Copyright Act of 1957 was the first Copyright Law of Independent India which came into force on 21st of January, 1958. The Act not only amended and consolidated laws relating to copyright but also introduced certain new provisions like for the purpose of registration of books and other artistic works setup of copyright office under the control of the “Registrar of Copyright”, and establishment of a “Copyright Board” to deal with certain kinds of disputes pertaining to copyright. In “Manojah Cine Production V.
A. Sudarshan
”, it was stated that “the copyright is granted and safeguarded as per the provisions of the Act and there exists no common law right.”

The Act has been amended five times since then, in the years 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994 and 1999 to keep the copyright regime in India in the wheel with latest technologies and challenges to copyright protection posed by them. The “Geneva Convention for Protection of Producers of Phonograms”, 1971 was signed by India on February 12, 1975. This convention was introduced to protect the work Phonogram producers and sound recordings from unauthorized duplication and to deal with the piracy problem of recorded music.

The “Universal Copyright Convention” was first adopted at Geneva on September 6, 1952, but India signed the convention on April 7, 1988, after its revision in 1971. This convention was welcomed by the developing countries and the Soviet Union as it was to ensure respect for the rights of the individual and encourage the development of art, literature and science, to facilitate large dissemination of works of the human mind and to create more international understanding.

Copyright Act, 1957

In India, the protection of copyright for original works is governed by the Copyright Act, 1957. This act protects the rights of creators or authors of their intellectual property such as “literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and cinematograph films and sound recordings from unauthorized uses”. In “V.T. Thomas V. Malayala Manorama” it was held that “the creator of an artistic work is the rightful owner as he is the one that impregnates the idea and executes it”.

In order to get a copyright, the work should be original. According to “University of London Press Ltd. V. University Tutorial Press Ltd” it was held that “original means that the work must originate from its author and must not be copied from another work.” Copyright does not provide protection to titles or name, short word combinations or phrases, methods and factual information. Copyright does not protect mere idea or concept.

The owner of the copyright is given several rights under the Copyright Act, 1957. In general, the rights conferred under this act can be characterized into the following types- moral and economic rights. Moral rights are the ability of authors to control the eventual fate of the work created by them.

Moral rights are referred to as the personal rights of the author. It was observed in the case of “Smt. Manu Bhandari V. Kala Pictures Ltd”. that “Sec. 57 is a special provision for the protection of authors’ moral rights. The object of it is to put the copyright on a higher footing than a normal matter of right, the language of Sec. 57 is of widest amplitude. It cannot be restricted to literary expressions only. Audio-visual manifestations are also directly covered under it”.

They cannot be transferred to other people including heirs and are finished at the time when the copyright owner had passed away, although, moral interests of the late author are protected by copyright law to some extent after his death. On the other hand, economic rights are transferable ones. They can be transferred through sale, assignment or succession etc. therefore when an economic right gets assigned to someone, the assignee becomes the ‘copyright owner’, although the original author of the work continues to be the author with moral rights.

According to the Copyright Act, 1957, there are limitations over copyright also which can be broadly characterized as temporal limitations, geographical limitations, permitted uses and others. In “Penguin books Ltd. V. M/S India book distributors”, Justice Rohtagi observed: “Copyright is a property right, throughout the word retarded as a form of property worthy of special protection in ultimate Public Interest. The law starts from a premise that protection must be as long as broad possible and should provide only those expectations, limitations which are essential in Public Interest.”

Under temporal limitations, it has been provided that the copyright cannot continue for “an indefinite period” of time. The law provides for a “specific period of time” and duration, during which rights of the copyright owner may subsist. Under geographic limitations, it has been provided that the owner of the work for which copyright subsists is protected by the violations of his rights by the laws of the country where those violations take place. If such violations take place in another country, the owner of the copyright should refer to the laws of that country.

In the case where both the countries are members of the international conventions on copyright, the standards applied in the national laws of both countries are likely to be similar and therefore the limitation of geographical boundaries would not apply.

Under the limitation of permitted use certain acts that would normally amount to a violation of copyright are permissible under enumerated circumstances in the national laws and are referred to as “fair use” provisions. These acts include “reproduction of a work” that is done “exclusively for the personal or private use of the person” who reproduces the work, making quotations from protected work, provided that the source of the quotation along with the name of the author is mentioned and the extent of such quotation is compatible with fair practice provision.

Under the limitation of non-material works, works that are not fixed in a material form are protected by the national laws of most of the countries. In few countries, the text related to laws and “decisions held by the courts and administrative bodies are excluded” from copyright protection while in some other countries they are not, and the government is the owner of the copyright of such official documents and it exercises those rights in accordance to the public interests.


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