India: Statutory Licensing Of Copyrights In India-Scope Demarcated

Last Updated: 21 May 2019
Article by Bhavani Navaneedhan


Since the introduction of statutory licensing of copyrights in 2012 through an amendment to the Copyright Act 1957("the Act"), the provision has been attracting controversy and time and again the scope of the provision and its constitutionality has been questioned. The recent tussle between Spotify and Warner Music Group has again brought this provision to the forefront and has raised issues regarding its scope and applicability. In the current dispute Spotify is trying to make use of the statutory license provision granted under Section 31D of the Act and expand it to cover streaming of music on the internet. Spotify is relying on an Office Memorandum issued by Central Government which expanded the scope of Section 31D to include broadcasting on the internet. However, Warner Music Group has filed suit to restrain Spotify from being able to play music from its catalog on the streaming service. In the light of the dispute we seek to analyse the scope of the statutory license granted under the Act.

Interpretation of the Statutory Provision:

Section 31D of the Act gives right to any broadcasting organisation desirous of communicating to the public literary, musical work or sound recording that has been published already, to broadcast the work after giving prior notice indicating the duration and territorial scope of the broadcast. The organization shall pay royalties to the owner of the copyright at the rate fixed by the copyright board. Further, while stating the rates of royalty, this provision only talks about television and radio broadcast.

Over the years, the definition of "broadcast"1 has not changed and since the enactment of the Act in 1957 has been defined as "communication to the public (i) by any means of wireless diffusion, whether in any one or more of the forms of signs, sounds or visual images; or (ii) by wire, and includes a re-broadcast " In September 2016, the Indian Copyright Office issued a memorandum2 expanding the definition of "broadcast" in 31D, stating that "the provisions of section 31D are not restricted to radio and television broadcasting organizations only, but cover internet broadcasting organizations also."

However, the HRD Minister, at the time of passing the bill introducing section 31D in the Parliament in his speech had stated that:

"The Copyright Board, as a matter of law, under the statute will actually decide on the quantum of money that will be required to be paid by the TV companies to the music companies who have bought over those rights. Therefore, there was some debate as to whether it should be limited only to radio and TV should be kept out of it. But ultimately, we decided that TV should be included in it."

From a reading of the above-mentioned speech it is explicit that the debate was about including TV broadcasters and the inclusion of internet broadcasters was never contemplated.

Moreover the relevant rules3 of the Copyright Rules 2013 ("Rules") also prescribe the procedure for obtaining statutory license for radio and TV broadcasters and there is absolutely no mention of broadcasting through the internet. This interpretation is also used by the Bombay High Court in the case explained below in detail.

Recent Judicial Ruling:

The Bombay High Court has put to rest the controversy raised by the Office Memorandum of the Central Government and clearly demarcated the scope of Section 31D of the Act and held that it covers only radio and TV broadcasting. The Judgment was passed on April 23rd 2019 in the dispute between Tips Industries("Tips ") and Wnyk Music India Pvt Ltd4("Wynk Music").

A detailed analysis of the case is necessary to understand the reasoning of the court.

Matrix of Facts:

Wynk Music is an online music streaming application which allowed its registered users upon payment of monthly rent, to listen to music directly online and download songs and store it in the application. Further, upon remitting one-time charge, the users could also permanently purchase the songs and store it in a device of their choice. It had entered into a license agreement with Tips for the streaming of the recordings of Tips on its application, once the license expired the parties tried to renew it but could not reach an agreement. Hence Wynk Music invoked Section 31D of the Act claiming that it was an internet broadcasting organization and can obtain statutory license by giving notice to the copyright owner being Tips and no separate license agreement is required. Wynk Music continued to store the recordings of Tips on its application leading to Tips filing suit for infringement of copyright.

Issues Involved:

i) Whether the actions of Wynk Music infringe upon the exclusive rights of Tips as copyright owner of a sound recording granted under Section 14(1)(e)5 of the Act?

ii) Whether the statutory license under Section 31D extends to broadcasting on the internet?

Contention of Parties:

Wynk Music claimed that its 'on demand streaming service', whereby public can listen to any songs of their choice from the application, and the same does not amount to 'commercial rental' or 'sale', and was 'broadcasting' covered under Section 31D, as it was simply 'communicating to the public'. It relied on the use of expression "any" broadcasting organization in the provision to contend that online streaming is also covered.

Tips opposed this by contending that Section 31D is available only to radio and TV broadcasting. Internet Broadcasting is not covered by the provision.

Analysis of the Court:

a. Intent of Legislature:

The court noted that Section 31-D acted as a statutory exception to the rule that a copyrighted work is the exclusive property of its owner, and should therefore be construed narrowly in "conformity with the specific intention for which it was enacted". The court perused the reports of the Rajya Sabha Standing Committee, and the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 2012 Amendment Act, and opined that the Section was intended only to address radio and TV broadcasting. The Standing Committee understood 'broadcast' to mean radio and TV broadcast. The court held that the absence of express words in Section 31-D providing for a Statutory License in respect of internet streaming and / or downloading, was a conscious legislative decision and should be adhered . In view of the above and in the absence of an express statutory provision including internet broadcasting within the purview of Section 31-D, its scope cannot be expanded to include the same. Further, a review of the Rules 29 and 31 of the Rules also supported the view that Section 31-D is a statutory licensing regime meant only for 'radio' and 'television' broadcasting and not internet broadcasting. The court also rejected the Office Memorandum issued by the Central Government by observing that Central Government did not have power to make such interpretations. The court held "The said Memorandum lacks a 'statutory flavour' and cannot prevail over interpretation which is drawn under the Act and the Rules. The interpretation of Section 31-D in the said memorandum is inconsistent with the interpretation drawn by this Court and this Court is not bound by the said Memorandum".

b. Online services amount to 'commercial rental' and 'sale':

The Court held that Wynk Music's download services amounted to 'commercial rental' and 'sale'. It observed that "the Defendants through their outright purchase / download services are enabling their subscribers to actually store electronic files of the Plaintiff's sound recordings on their devices. Storing the files of the Plaintiff's sound recordings in electronic medium by the Defendants is nothing but making of another sound recording embodying the Plaintiff's sound recording. This right is an exclusive right granted to the owner of the copyright in the sound recording under Section 14(1)(e)(i) of the Act and the Defendants cannot be allowed to continue the same without any permission or authorization of the Plaintiff". Wynk Music's services enabling their customers to permanently download sound recordings and have a permanent access to the same clearly amounted to sale of sound recording violating the exclusive right of Tips to sell or offer for sale its sound recordings as provided in Section 14(1)(e)(ii) of the Act. The Court also noted that the 'download' services were not covered by the 'non-profit library or non-profit educational purpose' exception to the definition of ''commercial rental" as per Section 2(fa) of the Act. "the activities of the Defendants enabling their customers to download sound recordings and access them offline in lieu of a monthly subscription fee clearly do not fall under the exclusions provided in the said definition of 'commercial rental' and would therefore amount to 'commercial rental'", observed the Court. Hence the court held that internet broadcasting is not contemplated under Section 31D of the Act.


A balance needs to be achieved between public interest and interest of the copyright owners. The very purpose of granting copyright protection should not be defeated and statutory licenses should be interpreted in a narrow manner and their scope has to be limited to promote creativity and encourage artists, commercial exploitation and economy of the country. This decision confirms the Indian music industry's consistent stand that internet streaming services are not covered under Section 31D of the Act and thus throws light on the outcome of the dispute between Spotify and Warner Music Group.

[1] Section 2(dd) of the Act

[3] Rules 29, 30 and 31 contain the procedure for availing statutory license

[5] Under this provision the owner of a sound recording has the right to make any other sound recording embodying it and to store it in electronic or other means. Further, the owner also has the right to sell or give on rent a copy of the sound recording.

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
S.S. Rana & Co. Advocates
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
S.S. Rana & Co. Advocates
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions