India: Your Wedding Sangeet Won't Violate Any Copyrights, Or Will It?

Last Updated: 3 September 2019
Article by Isha Tiwari

The Copyright Registry on August 27, 2019 released a public notification containing a much awaited clarification regarding public performance and sound recordings played during marriage ceremonies.

Weddings in India are a celebration of the sacred union between two people and in general, an extravagant affair for the parties. Ceremonies are conducted in grandeur fashion with splendid servings, bright colours and musical processions. Usually an unnoticed detail, but playing pre-recorded sound recordings by way of any medium during these ceremonies, as per the Copyright Act 1957, has always been considered a violation of the copyright subsisting in the owner's work, until now.

Under Section 51 (a) (i) of the Copyright Act, 1957, "when any person, without a licence granted by the owner of the copyright or the Registrar of Copyrights under this Act or in contravention of the conditions of a licence so granted or of any condition imposed by a competent authority under this Act does anything, the exclusive right to do which is by this Act conferred upon the owner of the copyright, is considered an infringement of the owner's copyright.1"In order to play music/pre-recorded songs at events/parties/hotels/social functions etc., for commercial purposes, one needs to obtain a license at a particular tariff from the Indian Performing Rights Society Ltd. (IPRS), having exclusive authority over public performance rights and radio broadcasting rights.

This provision acts as a safety net for the owners who suffer pecuniary losses amongst other, when their work is illegally broadcasted/performed without their prior permission. However, the Act doesn't confer absolute rights on the owner of a musical work by way of providing certain necessary exemptions where the infringement may be construed as innocent.  One such is mentioned under Section 52 (1) (za) wherein, the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work or the communication to the public of such work or of a sound recording in the course of any bona fide religious ceremony or an official ceremony held by the Central Government or the State Government or any local authority is not infringement2.

Marriage procession and its associated social festivities are included within the ambit of "religious ceremonies" for a better understanding of the provision and as per the new notification the Government makes it clear that IPRS will grant a Free of Cost License (FOC) for such requests3.

(a) in an enclosed room or hall meant for the common use of residents in any residential premises (not being a hotel or similar commercial establishment) as part of the amenities provided exclusively or mainly for residents therein; or

(b) as part of the activities of a club or similar organisation which is not established or conducted for profit

As per the guidelines issued by IPRS, commercial establishments such as hotels, banquet halls, lawns etc. are not permitted to perform music publicly by any medium without a license, upon the payment of a royalty fee. The tariff varies for A Class cities such as Mumbai, Delhi/NCR, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad/Telangana, Goa, Ahmedabad, Pune, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Udaipur and the rest depending upon the hotel's per room tariffs4.

Although the notification is a welcome step by the Government, the situation still remains in a perplexed haze. Cost free license is only provided for indoor ceremonies, but the provision neglects in its consideration that wedding processions are majorly held outside, with hotels and banquet halls as the prime choice. Moreover, the obligation of obtaining such a license falls on which party, with either option contradicting the spirit of the recently issued notification. In order to determine the answer, a clarification is required on part of the Government putting the argument to rest once and for all and defining the ambit of Section 52 in respect of public performance of sound recordings.

Footnotes

1 The Copyright Act, 1957 (PDF); http://www.copyright.gov.in/Documents/CopyrightRules1957.pdf; accessed on 31 Aug. 19

2 Supra Note 1

3 http://copyright.gov.in/Latest_Notice37.aspx; accessed on 31 Aug. 19

4 https://www.iprs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/IHL-CL-Hotels-Guest-Houses.pdf; accessed on 31 Aug. 19

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