Music Piracy

Music is an artistic work which is subject to copyright protection. Music lovers can now effortlessly stream music from anywhere in the world. Even in restaurants, bars, and lounges, the music is played to entertain their customers, whether by employing DJs or playing music through sound systems. However, copyright infringement occurs when such copyrighted music is streamed without acquiring proper license from the copyright owners.

Copyright infringement disrupts the exclusive right of the copyright holder, who is usually the music producer in the case of musical works, to gain commercial benefits from their copyright protected works. Copyright involves the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the original work. Through licensing of the copyrighted work, the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute are transferred to the licensee who pay royalty to the licensor i.e, the original owner of the work, for using his work, commercially. Hence, licensed broadcasting of copyrighted music does not give rise to copyright infringement. Only when the economic rights arising out of copyright protected musical works are exploited by someone other than the owner of the work or someone not sanctioned by him, it leads to copyright infringement.


In the case of Super Cassettes Industries Pvt. Vs. Prime Cable Network, the plaintiff has business of producing and marketing music cassettes, CDs etc. The plaintiff extended his business and earned revenue by licensing the copyrighted works it owned to FM Radio services, television operators, television broadcasters and multi-system operators (MSO). The defendant, Prime Cable Network, had broadcasted or communicated to the public copyrighted musical works, sound recordings, and so on belonging to the plaintiff without a license, so the plaintiff sent them a legal notice asking them to obtain a license to broadcast the works belonging to the plaintiff as broadcasting them without a license causes copyright infringement. However, the defendant, Prime Cable Network, continued to broadcast infringing works on their television channel without regard for the plaintiff. As a result, the plaintiff brought a copyright infringement complaint against them. The plaintiff provided recordings of their copyrighted works being transmitted on the defendant’s television channel as evidence in front of the Delhi High Court. The Court awarded the Plaintiff with a permanent injunction and ordered the defendants to pay damages.

The Copyright Act of 1957 allows exceptions for some uses of copyrighted works that do not constitute copyright infringements. Section 52 states that educational purposes, research, or criticism are all fair use and do not constitute copyright infringement. If a school organizes a performance on its grounds where pupils will put on a musical performance for their professors and classmates, it will be covered under the provision of fair use of copyright. Even using a legal music streaming service to listen to music on your own phone in your private space does not constitute violation of copyright.

Along with the economic rights granted by copyright, the copyright holder also has moral rights. India is a signatory to the Berne Convention, and Article 6bis of that Convention protects moral rights, commonly known as the paternity rights of the author or creator of the copyrighted works. Section 57 of the Copyright Act of 1957 in India provides for moral rights.

These rights remain with the creator of an original work protected by copyright law even if other rights are transferred to someone else since they are provided to protect the work from damage, mutilation, and distortion. As a result, if someone attempts to edit the work or create a remixed version of the copyrighted work, they violate the moral rights of the original artist of the musical work. Since such modification has the potential to harm the reputation of original creator, making such changes without his permission constitutes an infringement of the moral rights arising from copyright.

In the case of Mannu Bhandari V. Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd. And Others, the moral rights with respect to audio and visual works brings musical works in its purview. The original creator of the work is entitled to claim damages from the defendant in cases where moral rights of the copyright holder has been infringed.

In accordance with the previous discussion, we can conclude that copyright infringement occurs when an original work that is a copyrightable subject matter is communicated to the public without permission from the original owner. Since DJs play music for a living or restaurants play music to entertain paying customers, they must enter into a licensing agreement with the owner of their musical work to avoid being sued for copyright infringement.  Even if only a small portion of the copyrighted music is taken without a Public Performance License, and performed or played in a public place, this can amount to copyright infringement.

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