India: Remixes: Saga Of The Bittersweet Symphonies

Last Updated: 13 August 2015
Article by Shristi Bansal

In the recent past, the traditional conception of copyright has given way to rise of various complex matters to cope up with the advancements in the nature of works and the medium of their expressions that propose protection under the Copyright Law. Innumerable issues arise in the tug of war between the copyright holders and their so-called infringers. One such issue continuously grappled with is that of the remixes under the Indian Copyright Act. Remixes are nothing but a modified version of any prior published sound recording by using another voice with different musicians and arrangers. An old song is decorated, developed and transferred to a different medium or otherwise the simple music of a popular song is changed so as to make the arrangement fall within the description of an original musical work.

Moral & Economic Rights of an Author

Technological advancement has led to unprecedented growth of commercial exploitation of best-selling sound recordings, catechizing the rights of integrity and paternity enshrined in section 57 of the Indian Copyrights Act, which provides for authors life-long moral rights also called as "Author's Special Rights". This section provides that even after the assignment or the transfer of the copyright the author shall have the right to claim the authorship of the work and as well as he can restrain or claim the damages for any distortion, mutilation, modification or any other derogatory act if such act are hampering the honor and reputation of the author, before the expiration of the term of copyright. While analyzing remixes, the test of substantial copying is applied. Remix is considered an infringement if the average audience is likely to associate the remixed song to the original recording. Thus, absence of prior consent for remixing will amount to infringement as it is a breach of moral rights original composer. While Mannu Bhandhari vs. Kala Vikas Pictures was the very first case that recognized the moral rights of an author, it was in Amar Nath Sehgal vs. Union of India where the Court effectively interpreted and upheld an author's moral rights under the Copyright Act. The Court held that an author's moral rights to be the soul of his work - essentially granting the author the right to preserve, protect and nurture his creations irrespective of the assignment of such copyright, whether wholly or partially. Even after parting away with the economic rights, the author does not lose the moral rights over the work. Thus, section 57 overshadows the terms of the contract of assignment of copyright. In simple terms, a plea of the terms of contract of assignment cannot be taken if such terms are contrary of section 57 of the Act. The terms of the contract should be framed in such a way that it doesn't hamper the special rights of the author. 

The copyrights, as assets have acquired more of an economic dimension in the present times, where the success of the songs is determined by the revenue it generates. However, the practice in the media industry in India has been such that the producers seek to own the entire bundle of rights attached to the author's works, depriving them of their dues and recognition for the work created by them. Thus, the popular sound recordings were remixed leading to huge profits which did not accrue to the original authors. Through the 2012 Amendment Act, the legislature seeks to protect the interests of the authors. It is now provided that the authors have the right to receive royalties from the assignee. The right to royalty is an inalienable right. Further, it is required that the authors must receive equal share in profits earned by the assignee form exploitation of authors works by way of royalty, making them equal shareholders of the profits earned.

A recent incident of remixing has been brewing in Odisha for the alleged distortion of the popular folk song 'Ranga', where the remake of the song was aired by Coke Studio and the show promoters were issued a legal notice demanding compensation for copyright infringement. It was contended that no authorization or license was taken from the original composers for the mutilation of the song which amounted as an insult to the cultural sentiments. Although this copyright infringement has not yet gone to the courts, various such issues need the meticulous analysis of the judiciary. As a result, remixes could be perceived as a separate genre of music and not merely an unjust impairment leading of dwindling of the timeless classics.


Despite the 2012 amendments, which chiefly cater to the cover versions, the status of remixes in the Act remains ambiguous. The Statute only provides for the grant of injunction and damages in cases where any distortion, modification or other act in relation to the work would be prejudicial to author. An off-shoot of the above problem is the ever plaguing issue of piracy which leads to losses suffered by the industry and defeats the very objective of copyrights, especially the time bound protection granted for 60 years. Strict and coherent interpretation of the provisions on the remixes of sound recordings would serve public interest while promoting the growth of the music industry by boosting innovation and investment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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