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June 6, 2019

Court dismisses Architect’s suit seeking re-creation of demolished architectural work

In Raj Rewal v. Union of India & Ors.CS(COMM) 3/2018, the Delhi High Court, in its judgment dated May 28, 2019, held that the special rights of an author under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 cannot be interpreted as enabling the author to restrain an owner of land from demolishing an architectural work situated on such land.

The Plaintiff filed the instant suit before the Delhi High Court pleading that the Defendants’ action of demolishing the Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion (both of which were the Plaintiff’s historic architectural works), was contrary to the special rights provided to the Plaintiff under Section 57 (b) of the Copyright Act, 1957. The Plaintiff sought a mandatory injunction against the Defendants (viz. Union of India and Indian Trade Promotion Organization) to compensate by recreating the Plaintiff’s work of architecture so demolished, in the same location or any other location equally prominent as the earlier location. 

The Defendants argued that Section 57(b) of the Copyrights Act confers rights only in respect of distortion, mutilation or modification of a copyright and is not concerned with its total destruction. The Defendants also submitted that the provision further authorizes only restraint or claim for damages against distortion, mutilation or modification of a copyright and does not provide for the author of the copyright to seek mandatory injunction for re-creation thereof.

The Court observed that ‘… the owner of a building, even if an acclaimed piece of architecture, cannot be restrained from demolishing the same and making a new building in its place.’

While dismissing the plaintiff’s suit, the Court took the view that ‘Section 57(b) has to be necessarily interpreted as entitling the author / owner of a copyright to only restrain the owner / occupier of the building from dealing with the work of architecture in the building to make the building look otherwise than as designed by the author / architect… the embargo is only to making the copyrighted work look something other than as created and not against effacing the copyright work.’.

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