OWNERSHIP OF MUSICAL WORKS AND SOUND RECORDINGS IN A CINEMATOGRAPHIC FILM – Eshwars
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OWNERSHIP OF MUSICAL WORKS AND SOUND RECORDINGS IN A CINEMATOGRAPHIC FILM

Authored by Ammu Brigit

In a recent interesting judgement, the Hon’ble High Court of Madras had, in a suit for copyright infringement and permanent injunction filed by Indian Record Manufacturing Co. Ltd., (the “Plaintiff”), against a reputed reputed Indian music composer Mr. Illaiyaraja, permanently injuncted Mr. Illaiyaraja from infringing the Plaintiff’s copyrights in certain musical works and sound recordings that were composed by him for various producers and which were incorporated in cinematograph films.

While passing the aforesaid judgement the High Court confirmed the principles that a cinematographic film is a combination of many copyrightable works and that a producer of the film is the first owner of the copyright in all copyrightable works including the sound recordings and musical works forming part of the cinematograph film in the absence any contract to the contrary with the music director or composer.

The issue of ownership over copyright in such musical and sound recordings is clear in cases where the producer takes the assignment of the copyright from the creators/authors of such work viz., the music director or composer, for creating a cinematographic film. But what happens in case where there is no express written contract or agreement between the producer and the music director regarding the assignment of copyrights in musical works or sound recordings created for use in cinematograph films? Who is the first author and owner of such works in the absence of an express assignment agreement inter-se the producer and the music director? Are the rights of the music director co-extensive with that of the producer in such instances? These were some of the issues that the Hon’ble High Court of Madras was faced with while deciding the aforesaid matter and the judgement pronounced by Madras High Court helps us to understand the aspect of copyright ownership over musical works and sound recordings incorporated in a cinematographic film in the light of the provisions of the Copyright Act 1957 and the amendments thereon.

Facts

The Plaintiff claiming to be a reputed musical production and distribution company, acquired the rights over certain musical works and sound recordings contained in different cinematographic films (in respect of which the music was composed by Mr Illaiyaraja, the 2nd defendant), from producers of such cinematographic films through written agreements and thus claimed exclusive ownership over such works with a right to exploit it on a stand-alone basis and has been exploiting it in various forms right from its assignment.

Later, Ilaiyaraja, the 2nd defendant claiming to be the owner of the copyright over such musical works and sound recordings, in his capacity as the creator of the musical works, undertook to sell the copyright in the musical work used in these cinematographic films (which was already assigned by the producers of the films to the Plaintiff) to Agi Music Sdn Bhd., the 1st defendant. In the above background the Plaintiff filed a suit for copyright infringement and permanent injunction against the defendants.

Important claims of the Plaintiff:

The Plaintiff stated that the claim of the 2nd defendant is ex-facie incorrect for he is not the owner of the copyrights in respect of the films for which he has composed the music. He had composed the music only on being engaged by the producers and not independently. As such the producers of the respective films are the first owners of the copyrights of the musical works and sound recordings contained in the films. The 2nd defendant as composer cannot claim right over it.

Important claims of the 2nd defendant:

The 2nd defendant denying the Plaintiff’s claim that the producers of the films are the first owners of the musical works and sound recordings stated that in the absence of any agreement between the music composer/2nd defendant and the producers of the films, injunction cannot be granted in favour of the Plaintiff based on the agreement between the Plaintiff and the producers. He further contended that where even assuming that the producers have acquired copyright in the musical works from the 2nd defendant who is the author or composer, the copyrights held by the producer in such works cannot impeach or trench upon the copyright of the composer/author, which is an independent right. It was further argued that the film producer’s right is restricted to reproduce or assign the film for exhibition and that the copyright of the film producer is a composite right as a whole and cannot be disintegrated and assigned in pieces. Once, the musical work is disintegrated, then the ownership vest with the author of the musical work who in this case is the 2nd defendant.

Decision:

To understand the legal position vis-à-vis the copyright ownership of musical work used in cinematographic film, we need to analyse important certain provisions in the Copyright Act 1957 and the amendments thereon(“Act’). The word cinematographic film is defined as a work of visual recording and includes a sound recording accompanying such visual recording. Further, according to Sections 2(d)(ii) and 2(d)(v) of the Act, the author of a musical work is the composer and the author of a cinematographic film or sound recording is the producer of such film and the sound recording, respectively. Further, as per proviso (b) to Section 17 of the Act, the first owner of a cinematographic film made is the person at whose instance such cinematographic film is made for a valuable consideration, unless there is a contract to the contrary.

For creating a cinematographic film, a producer engages, for a valuable consideration, a music composer to compose the music for the film. Thus, through the engagement, the composer composes the musical works for use in a cinematograph film at the instance of the producer and thus the producer becomes the owner of the musical work by virtue of the provisions of  Section 2 (d) (v) read with proviso (b) to Section 17 of the Act. A producer combines literary, dramatic, artistic work and sound recording together along with the performance of the performers to create a cinematographic film and the producer becomes the author and first owner of the cinematographic film, unless a contract to the contrary exists with such performers and individual artists.

Thus, going by the above interpretation and arrangement of the provisions of the Act, the songs or music in a film is the combination of musical work, lyrics and sound recordings. The producer can sell the entire audio rights to a music company and in turn the music company will have the right to exploit such audio works. This means that the musical work, lyrics and sound recordings incorporated in a cinematographic film can be exploited on a stand-alone basis by the first owner of the cinematographic film i.e. the producer. The separation of the musical work from a cinematographic film does not give rise to a separate copyright to the music composer and therefore a music composer cannot claim individual copyright on a musical work incorporated in a cinematographic film. Thus, the Hon’ble High Court of Madras held that in the absence of any contract to the contrary, the film producers of the cinematograph films are the first owners of the copyright over the musical works and sound recordings used in the cinematograph films and the music composer cannot claim any independent copyright over the same. It further held that the in view of the proviso(b) to Section 17 of the Act, the right of the film producers as owner will certainly override the right of the music composer as the author in respect of musical works and sound recordings used in such cinematograph films.

The Court while passing the order in the instant matter and arriving at its decision herein relied upon the order passed by the  Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Indian Performing Society Ltd vs. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association and Others and also further relied upon another earlier decision of the Hon’ble Madras High Court in the matter of Agi Music Sdn. Bhd., represented by Agilan Lechaman Managing Director Vs. Ilaiyaraja and Other, whereunder it was rightly held that the right of the composer or the lyricist in the musical works and the lyrics used in a sound recording forming part of a cinematograph film, can be defeated by the producer of a cinematograph film in view of proviso (b) to section 17 of the Act.

Conclusion

By demonstrably drawing difference between an author of a work and owner of a work and reading together the definition of cinematographic film, Section 2(d) and 17(b) of the Act, Madras High Court brings a clarity that that each copyrightable work incorporated in a cinematographic film does not create independent ownership to each copyrightable work contained in a cinematographic film and hence the ownership of the musical work incorporated in a cinematographic film lies with the producer and not with the composer given there is no contrary agreement between the producer and the composer. The only unique and special right that lies with the composer is the moral rights over the musical work composed by him for a cinematographic film governed by Section 57 of the Act.

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