Updated on 10 Jul 2020, 6:15 am
It has become increasingly evident that Manipur's entertainment industry and their fans are woefully ignorant when it comes to protection of intellectual property. Agreements are almost always oral or scantily documented. Most of the public are in the dark about the limitations, which results in a whole lot of confusion and bitterness over who owns what and who can do what with that.
Last month, ‘Tantha’, a leading entertainment company, introduced a policy barring fans from using their copyrighted music on Tik Tok and faced significant backlash from their subscribers. And earlier this week, Soma Laishram, a popular movie star, remade a song she sang in 2013 and failed to credit Bronson Khumukcham, the lyricist and composer who originally wrote the song. Yet, in the original version of the song, Bronson was credited as the lyricist and composer.
The confusion ultimately boils down to public ignorance about intellectual property laws. But it's far from rocket science. By the time you finish this article, you will know enough to keep you out of legal trouble and not get cheated when it comes to original work you have created.
In India, any original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, cinematographic and sound recording work that originates from the skill and labour of an author is copyrightable work. The acquisition of copyright is automatic, and the right comes in existence the moment it is created. Registration of copyright is not a necessity, but it helps identify the copyright holder and serves as evidence.
How long copyright protection lasts varies depending on category. For literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, it lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 60 years. In the case of cinematography and sound recording, it lasts for 60 years from the beginning of the calendar year after the year of publication.
As a general rule, the first right holder of an intellectual property lies with the author, unless there is an agreement specifically waiving or assigning the said right. Depending on the facts of each case, if it falls within the purview of the exceptions provided under the Copyrights Act, the first right holder varies.
For work created during the course of employment, the copyright belongs to the employer. For commissioned work, it belongs the author/creator unless the rights are assigned to the person who commissioned the work. However, there are some exceptions: Copyright of photographs, paintings, portraits, engravings, or cinematography film made for consideration/payment is owned by the person who commissioned the work.
But, when assignment of rights is not clearly documented, the copyright belongs to the author. In other words, an assignment of rights cannot be made orally. In S. Vijayaraghavan’s case, the Madras High Court observed that assignment of copyright can only be made by writing or it is not at all enforceable in law. When a statutory requirement is not fulfilled, the agreement is invalidated. Further, the Division Bench of Madras High Court in a case related to the Tamil film ‘Aaranya Kaandam’ also observed that in case of lack of assignment, the rights belong to the independent authors/creators, even when the work was done in lieu of consideration. The author of the story/screenplay, the lyricist, the composer would all retain their individual copyright and in the event of remake, explicit permission of the creator would be necessary.
Indian Courts have even stricter rules for online intellectual property. Permissions and/or licensing are mandatory before hosting or using any intellectual property. Therefore, anyone interested in recording ‘cover songs’ — which involves re-working, updating, or interpreting a previously recorded and released song by someone other than the original artist — must either obtain a license and/or consent of the copyright holder, or give notice of their intention to record the song and obtain consent of the copyright holder. In both cases, royalties must be paid, subject to the terms of the contract.
You might think YouTube, where many people record and upload covers of popular songs, is an exception but it isn't — according to the letter of the law, anyway. Some original artists may not bother with getting the covers removed because they are happy for the exposure or consider imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but some may object to the copyright violation. It depends on the individual.
In the age of social media, ignorance of the law can no longer be an excuse. Like the phones we use, the Manipur entertainment industry and the fans need to become smarter. Oral agreements should make way for document-based agreements in order to avoid confusion. Artists should think strategically about protecting their intellectual property rights, making themselves aware of the enforceability of their agreements while also ensuring appropriate due diligence and negotiations are adopted in order to curb unwanted litigation. And fans should brush up on the law before crying foul.
Priyashree Sharma Ph
Lawyer, Supreme Court