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February 9, 2024

Court Case Bulletin (CCB): Organisations Not Registered As Copyright Societies Can Also Grant Copyright Licenses 

Author: Yash Raj

In the matters of Novex Communications Pvt. Ltd. v. Trade Wings Hotels Limited and Phonographic Performance Ltd. v. Bunglow – 9 & 99 Ors. [2024:BHC-OS:1428], a Single Judge [R.I. Chagla, J.] of the High Court of Bombay, vide judgment dated January 24, 2024, while dismissing the issue raised by Defendants in copyright infringement suits, held that the Plaintiffs, even though not registered as copyright societies, were entitled as owners to grant licenses and seek relief for copyright infringement.

Section 30 of the Copyright Act, 1957 (‘the Act’) states that “The owner of the copyright…may grant any interest in the right by licence…”. Section 33(1) of the Act states that “No person or association of persons shall…commence or, carry on the business of issuing or granting licences in respect of any work in which copyright subsists…except under or in accordance with the registration granted…Provided that an owner of copyright shall, in his individual capacity, continue to have the right to grant licences in respect of his own works consistent with his obligations as a member of the registered copyright society.” The issue that arises is, whether copyright owners can carry on business of granting licences without being registered as copyright societies?

Plaintiffs, Novex Communications and Phonographic Performance Limited, filed suits to restrain numerous hotels, restaurants and malls (Defendants) from using their sound recordings without obtaining a license. The Plaintiffs contended that the scheme of Act recognizes the supremacy of owner’s right to license and an expansive interpretation of the term ‘business’ under the Act would render the copyright owner losing majority of its rights except to licence its right for philanthropy. The Plaintiffs further contended that the prohibition under the Act on conducting the business of granting licenses without registration as a copyright society does not take away an owner’s right to grant licenses in its individual capacity.

The Defendants contended that Plaintiffs, not being registered as copyright societies, were not entitled to grant licenses under the Act. The Defendants further submitted that while an owner has right to issue licenses but when its licensing activity enters the realm of ‘business’, it must do so either through a copyright society or by seeking registration as one.

While deciding the issue, the Court held that Plaintiffs “…have the power as owners to grant interest in the copyright by license under section 30 of the Act irrespective of whether they are carrying on the business of granting licenses or not.” and that they “are entitled to seek reliefs as sought for in the plaint without being registered as a copyright society under section 33(1) of the Act ”.

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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