Copyright relates to literary and artistic creations, such as books, music, paintings and sculptures, films, and technology-based works (such as computer programs and electronic databases). In certain languages, copyright is referred to as authors’ rights. Although international law has brought about some convergence, this distinction reflects a historic difference in the evolution of these rights that is still reflected in many copyright systems. The expression copyright refers to the act of copying an original work which, in respect of literary and artistic creations, may be done only by the author or with the author’s permission. The expression authors’ rights refer to the creator of an artistic work, its author, thus underlining that, as recognized in most laws, authors have certain specific rights in their creations that only they can exercise, which are often referred to as moral rights, such as the right to prevent distorted reproductions of the work. Other rights, such as the right to make copies, can be exercised by third parties with the author’s permission, for example, by a publisher who obtains a license to this effect from the author.
Copyright protects two types of rights. Economic rights allow right owners to derive financial reward from the use of their works by others. Moral rights allow authors and creators to take certain actions to preserve and protect their link with their work. The author or creator may be the owner of the economic rights or those rights may be transferred to one or more copyright owners. Many countries do not allow the transfer of moral rights.
The Berne Convention, in Article 6bis, requires its members to grant authors the following rights:
(i) the right to claim authorship of a work (sometimes called the right of paternity or the right of attribution); and
(ii) the right to object to any distortion or modification of a work, or other derogatory action in relation to a work, which would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation (sometimes called the right of integrity).
These and other similar rights granted in national laws are generally known as the moral rights of authors. The Berne Convention requires these rights to be independent of authors’ economic rights. Moral rights are only accorded to individual authors and in many national laws, they remain with the authors even after the authors have transferred their economic rights. This means that even where, for example, a film producer or publisher owns the economic rights in a work, in many jurisdictions the individual author continues to have moral rights.
In the year 1957, the Government of India commissioned a certain Mr. Sehgal to create a bronze mural for the Vigyan Bhavan, the most prominent International Convention Hall in Delhi. The bronze sculpture in question was about 140 ft. span and 40 ft. sweep and had taken five years to complete. On completion, it was placed on the wall of the Lobby in the Convention hall. This embellishment on national architecture became a part of the Indian art heritage. However, in 1979, the mural was pulled down and consigned to the storeroom of the Union without notice or permission, or authorization of Mr. Sehgal. When Mr. Sehgal came to know of this ill-treatment, he made representations to the government authorities for restoration of the mural, to no avail. Amarnath Sehgal filed a petition under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 before the Delhi High Court seeking for enforcement of his moral rights. He sought an apology from the defendants, a permanent injunction on the defendants to restrain them from distorting, mutilating, or damaging the plaintiff’s mural, and damages to the tune of INR 50 Lacs. He was also granted the same.
The main takeaway from this case is that despite the transfer or sale of a copyrighted work from the creator to another person, all the rights of the creator do not get extinguished. The creator still retains his/her moral rights that can be enforced when the need be.
Describing the aspects of moral rights protects the interest of the author in maintaining their standing and reputation. In India, the statutes and the ruling of the courts indicate only integrity right and paternity rights as moral rights as far as India alone is concerned, though the legislation in this regard has been limited in the India statute on copyright the courts are favoring a wider interpretation of these rights