In Raj Rewal v Union of India & Ors. [CS(COMM) 3/2018, with IA Nos. 90 and 92 of 2018], the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi (Court) held that an architect of a building does not have the right to restraint the demolition of the building on the basis of his moral rights.
The plaintiff, Mr Raj Rewal (Rewal), who is an acclaimed architect had designed amongst other structures, the iconic Hall of Nations (Hall) and the Nehru Pavilion housed inside the Hall, which stood in the Pragati Maidan ground. Somewhere in 2016, the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) proposed to destroy the Hall in order to build an integrated exhibition-cum-convention centre. Rewal filed a writ in the Court for revocation of the decision taken by ITPO. However, the said writ was dismissed. Thereafter, in 2017 Rewal filed another writ before the Court for declaration of Hall as works of national importance and for preservation thereof during the re-development of Pragati Maidan. This writ was also dismissed. Rewal then preferred an appeal. While this appeal was pending hearing, ITPO started demolishing the Hall. Thus, Rewal filed the present suit against the actions of Union of India and ITPO, on the ground that demolition of the Hall is contrary to Section 57 (which deals with author's special rights) of the Copyright Act, 1957 (Act). Rewal prayed for a mandatory injunction against the Union of India and ITPO to compensate him by recreating the work of architecture of the Hall at the same location or at any other equally prominent location in Delhi under his direct supervision. Once again there were no interim reliefs granted to Rewal. In the interim order dated 5 January 2018, amongst other things, the Court observed that defence under Section 57 of the Act is applicable only to those buildings which have been declared to be heritage buildings or buildings of national importance.
Thereafter, the matter was heard at length and the present decision was passed on 28 May 2019. During the hearings, Rewal contended that artistic work includes a work of architecture and therefore he being the author of the same is entitled to various rights as provided under Section 14(c) of the Act including the special rights granted under Section 57 of the Act which entitles him (as an author of the artistic works) right of paternity and integrity commonly known as 'moral rights'. Rewal had relied on the seminal decision of the Delhi High Court in the case of Amar Nath Sehgal v Union of India [117 (2005) DLT 717] (Amar Nath Sehgal case), wherein Amar Nath Sehgal being the sculptor of the mural adorning Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi, had filed a suit for declaration of violation of the moral rights and seeking an apology and injunction restraining further distortion, mutilation and damage to the mural and compensation for distortion, injury, insult and loss of reputation, against Union of India who pulled down the mural adorning Vigyan Bhawan and consigned the mural to the store room. In this case, the Court observed that the copyright law in India being at par with the Berne Convention, any distortion, mutilation or modification of a work which is prejudicial to the author's reputation or honour are actionable. The Court observed that there is an urgent need to interpret Section 57 of the Act in wider amplitude to include destruction of a work of art, being the extreme form of mutilation, since by reducing the volume of the authors creative corpus, it affects his reputation. Thus, in addition to the declaration that all rights in the mural vested in Amar Nath Sehgal and damages of INR 5,00,000 against Union of India along with a mandatory injunction was issued directing the Union of India to return the remnants of the mural to Amar Nath Sehgal.
In its response, ITPO contended that Section 57 of the Act only deals with restraint against damage, distortion, mutilation or modification of the work or to claim damage and does not provide for the author of the copyright to seek mandatory injunction for re-creation thereof. It was further contended that Rewal had neither claimed the relief of damages nor sought the relief of injunction against destruction and which in any case could not have been sought since the building had been demolished prior to institution of the suit. Additionally, it was also argued that Section 57(1)(b) of the Act confers rights only in respect of distortion, mutilation or modification of the work and is not concerned with complete effacing of the work and complete destruction of the work of architecture is akin to failure to display a work, which is an exception to Section 57(1) of the Act, as per the explanation provided therein. It was argued that complete effacing of the work of architecture is akin to failure to display a work dealt with in explanation to Section 57(1) of the Act and which has been held to be not an infringement of the rights conferred thereunder. It was further argued that Section 57 is for enabling the architect to either restrain modification or distortion of the work so as to take away the artistic elements thereof in which the author has a copyright or to claim damages therefor; however, when the work is totally removed and is not in public view, the question of the same affecting the rights of the author does not arise.
While, the Court empathised with Rewal and other artists like him and observed that Union of India and ITPO did owe a duty to Rewal to inform him about the proposed demolition of the Hall, explain their reasons to him and give him an opportunity to do whatsoever he desired with the Hall before demolishing the same, the Court rejected Rewal's claim that moral rights under Section 57 were abrogated by the destruction of the Hall. The Court observed that, in case Rewal is allowed to thwart the destruction of the Hall then it would amount to a restriction of ITPO's right to deal freely with their property and the land. The Court also explored the constitutional angle and held that while Rewal's rights in the artistic work was purely statutory in nature under the Act, the right to property was a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India, which in any case must prevail over statutory rights. The Court further held that author's rights to prevent distortion, mutilation or modification of their work under Section 57 does not permit an author to prevent the destruction of a work in its entirety. To support its position, the Court also relied on the explanation under Section 57(1) of the Act that the failure to display a work is not infringement of rights conferred by Section 57, in recognition/acceptance of, that what cannot be viewed, seen, or heard cannot be imperfect and consequently cannot affect the honour or reputation of the author/architect.
The Court also relied upon Section 52(1)(x) of the Act, which provides for an exception to copyright infringement that the reconstruction of a building or structure in accordance with the architectural drawings to which the building was originally constructed. The Court reasoned that if destruction/demolition is prohibited under Section 57(1)(b) of the Act, then that would render Section 52(1)(x) of the Act inoperative. The Court further reasoned that the requirements of urban planning as well as technical or economic reasons far outweigh the moral rights of an architect and therefore the owner of the building has full power to dispose of/destroy the building. The Court therefore dismissed the suit on the grounds that Rewal had no cause of action against the demolition of the Hall.
This decision is an important contribution to the scarce jurisprudence with respect moral rights in Indian copyright law. The present case and Amar Nath Sehgal case is a study in paradox. In the present case, ITPO's right to property being a constitutional right prevailed over Rewal's statutory right under the Act. Relying upon the explanation under Section 57(1) of the Act read along with Section 52(1)(x), the Court restricted the scope of moral rights to exclude demolition.
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