Delhi High Court's Take On Copyright Of An Architect In An Architectural Structure

This interpretation of the Court favours redevelopment, town planning, reconstruction and ultimately progress- technological as well as economical.
India Intellectual Property
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'Law is a means to the end of justice. Hence while protecting the letter of law, justice should not be misplaced.'

The Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries are 2 famous buildings designed and constructed by Mr. Raj Rewal and Mr. Mahendra Raj in 1972, the 25th year of the Indian independence. The ingenuity in its design and creation is attributed to the 2 architects. The Hall, situated at New Delhi, India, is known as the first "Large Span Concrete Structure" in the world. The Hall was occupied by Indian Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) and was to be demolished in 2017 for redevelopment plans of constructing a building of the Integrated Exhibition and Convention Centre (IECC). The architect's efforts of having the Hall declared as a heritage site by the Heritage Conservation Committee were not fruitful. The case at hand, Raj Rewal v. Union of India & Ors, deals with infringement of the author's moral rights in the artistic work of the famous architect Mr. Raj Rewal ("Plaintiff") after the building was demolished in 2017.

According to the Plaintiff such demolition of the Hall was infringement of the author's moral rights in the work as per Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 2000. Section 57 states that the author of a work shall have the right to restrain or claim damages for distortion, mutilation and modification or other act that would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation. Such distortion, mutilation or modification of an artistic work is violation of the author's moral rights in the work.

The question before the court was a grave one, because, on one hand is the right to property of the land owner, who has a liberty to use his land as per his wishes, while on the other hand, is the moral right of the author who designed the structure erected upon such land. The Court reviewed and critically analysed not only Section 57 of the Copyright Act, but also the laws and judicial precedents relating to property laws.

Before concluding the order, the Court has specifically empathised with the Plaintiff for his endearment towards his works of art and stated that his act of filing a suit to protect his work of art is understandable. The Court said, "Art is transformation of thoughts / ideas of the artist into form. The practitioners of such professions as of an architect or artist, thus give birth to something tangible and being in love with that is fully understandable. Their creation is like a child and falling in love with the child is an emotion which all can understand." The Court also stated that the least that the defendant could have done was to cordially inform the architect before demolishing the structure.

However, as we are aware of "law being reason free from passion", the Court dismissed this suit. The Court interpreted the words distortion, mutilation and modification in Section 57 of the Copyright Act to mean such mutilation or distortion of the artistic work which would would prejudice the reputation of the artist or which would make the work appear different from what the author had created or imperfect. The Court further stated that not displaying the work at all or demolishing the work in entirety cannot be said to be infringement of the author's rights in the work. This interpretation of the Court favours redevelopment, town planning, reconstruction and ultimately progress- technological as well as economical.

Imagine a situation, wherein all the buildings and constructed structures are restrained from being demolished for protecting the author's right! Therefore, distortion, mutilation or modification of a building can be restrained by the architect, however, complete demolition cannot be restrained. One must understand that though law is based on rationale, such rationale may sometimes lie outside the codified law; it may lie in the correct interpretation of the law.

Compiled by: Adv. Sachi Kapoor | Concept & Edited by: Dr. Mohan Dewan

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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