The Copyright Act: An Overview

India is a signatory to the majority of important international treaties on intellectual property law, including the Berne Convention of 1886, the Universal Copyright Convention of 1951, the Rome Convention of 1961, and the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Prior to the present Act, the Copyright Act of 1914 was applicable on the subject of copyright in India. Later, Parliament enacted the Copyright Act, 1957, and the Act came into force on January 21st, 1958. It is the first post-independence legislation on copyright.

What does the Copyright Act Define?

Consisting of fifteen chapters and 79 Sections, the Act is enacted on January 21, 1958 to protect someone’s original work. The Act protects not only intellectual property rights created after the Act's enactment, but also intellectual (original) works created before the Act's enactment. Furthermore, the Act defines different types of copyrightable works and items and explains the procedures for protecting them through registration. However, original works can be protected even without registration if their originality is proven in a court of law. The Act defines different time limits for different copyrighted works and also defines a fine and punishment if someone infringes.

Meaning of Copyright

Copyright is a form of intellectual property rights. It protects original works such as works of literature, drama, music, artistic works, cinematographic films, audio recordings, etc. It protects the expression of an idea of an author rather than the idea itself.

Section 14 of the Act defines copyright as an exclusive right of the owner to adapt, reproduce, publish, depict, sell, store, translate, and communicate his work, which may be in the form of literary, dramatic, or musical work; computer program; artistic work; cinematographic film; or sound recording. These are also called the economic rights of the author.

It includes

  • Right to reproduce

  • Right to issue copies

  • Right to perform at public

  • Right to make a film or a sound recording

  • Right to translate

  • Right to adapt

  • In the case of computer programmes and cinematographic films and sound recordings, in addition to the aforesaid rights, he has the right to sell, rent, or offer for sale.

Section 57 of the Act confers upon the author two basic moral rights: the right of paternity and the right of integrity.

The Subject of Protection

As per Section 13 of the Act, copyright protection has been conferred upon original literary works, dramatic works, musical works, artistic works, cinematographic films, sound recordings, computer programmes etc. These works have been categorised and defined under Section 2 of the Act.

It includes paintings, sculptures, sketches, photographs, speeches, books, computer games, plays, movies, toys, etc. These are by-products of the original works mentioned above.

Duration of Copyright

Sections 22 to 29 of the Act, describe the terms for which the copyright subsists and duration of copyright:

  • Published literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works-lifetime of the author plus sixty years from the beginning of the calendar year following the year in which the author dies.

  • Cinematographic films, sound recordings, government work, public undertakings, international agencies, photographs, anonymous or pseudonymous works — sixty years from the beginning of the calendar year following the year in which the work is first published.

Types of Works Duration

Lifetime of the author + sixty years from the beginning of the calendar year next following the year in which the author dies.

Artistic works
Anonymous and pseudonymous works.

For sixty years.

Cinematograph films
Government work
Public undertakings

Ownership of Copyright

Section 17 of the Act states that the author shall be the first owner of the copyright, which means:

  • Literary work or dramatic composition - the author

  • Musical work - the musician

  • Creative work apart from photography - the artist

  • Photographic work by the artist or photographer

  • Cinematographic work or sound recording - the cinematographer

  • Work generated by a computer.

However, following are some of the exceptions to the above rule 

  • For works made in the course of the author's employment under a contract of service or apprenticeship, the employer is the owner.

  • The owner of photographs taken, portraits or paintings drawn, or cinematographic work created for valuable consideration by any person is that person.

  • In the case of an address or speech delivered on behalf of another person, that person is the owner.

  • In the case of government work, the government is the owner.

  • In the case of work done to which Section 41 applies, the concerned international organisation is the owner.

Exceptions to Copyright Infringement

Section 52 of the Act has created an exception for certain acts which would not amount to an infringement of copyright. It says the act amounting to fair dealing would not be an infringement. Free use can be made of any work except computer programmes for the purposes, including:

  • Private or personal use, including research

  • Criticism and review

  • Reporting of current events or issues

  • Any judicial proceeding's reproduction and reporting

  • Reading or reciting any literary work in the public domain, etc.

 Infringement and Remedies against Infringement

Infringement of copyright means using someone’s copyrighted work without his or her consent. Depending upon the degree of infringement and subsequent action and result, the Act provides for civil, administrative, and criminal remedies for the owner of the copyright against any such infringement.

These remedies are 

  • Civil Remedies − These remedies are provided under Sections 54 to 62 of the Act. Injunctions, damages, and profit accounting are among the available remedies.

  • Criminal Remedies  Criminal remedies are provided under Sections 63 to 70 of the Act and include imprisonment of up to three years along with a fine of up to 2 lakh rupees, search and seizure of copyright work, and delivery of copyrighted goods to the owner.

  • Administrative Remedies  The Registrar of Copyrights can make an order to prevent the infringement of a copyright. As per Section 72, appeals from the order of Registrar shall lie to the Appellate Board. The Appellate Board's decision may be appealed to the High Court.

The Copyright Office and Appellate Board

Sections 9 to 12 describe the Copyright Office and Appellate Board. It states that a Copyright Office shall be established under the immediate control of the Registrar of Copyrights. The Central Government shall appoint the Registrar of Copyright and may appoint one or more Deputy Registrars of Copyright.

The Act also says that the Appellate Board registered under the Trade Marks Act, 1999 shall be the Appellate Authority for this Act. The Appellate Board has been vested with all the powers of a civil court.

Copyright Society

Sections 33 to 36A of Chapter VII of the Act deal with copyright societies. It is a legal entity which has been conferred with the duty of safeguarding and protecting the interests of the author of the original work in which the copyright subsists. It is a licenced society formed by the owners of the copyrights with collective administration. The minimum number of members required is seven. A copyright society can issue licences or other privileges for the work in which the copyright subsists.


The Copyright Act is an essential law for the protection of an author's original work who has invested his time and resources in creating that work. It seeks to strike a balance between the prevention of commercial monopolies and the copyright holder's interests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. When did the Act come into force?

Ans: The Act is enacted on January 21, 1958. However, the Act also protect someone’s original work created even before enactment of this Act.

Q2. What is the minimum membership required for a copyright society?

Ans: The minimum members required to form a copyright society is seven.

Q3. Who appoints the Registrar of Copyright?

Ans: Central Government appoints the registrar who is responsible for the registration of copyright work.

Q4. Which court hears the appeal against the order or decision of the Appellate Board?

Ans: In case of violation or infringement of anyone’s copyright, if the plaintiff is not satisfied with the decision of Appellate Board, then he or she can appeal in the respective High Court.

Updated on: 10-Jan-2023


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