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Ownership of Musical works in Cinematographic films

Ownership of Musical works in Cinematographic films

Producers of cinematographic films use musical works to invoke a range of feelings which improves the overall experience of the audience. It creates a sense of rhythm and commentary to the segments and scenes which helps shape the emotional responses that make the cinematic experience memorable. In the famous movie Titanic, the scene in which the violins kept playing while the ship was sinking has become iconic in the minds of the public. Viewers may or may not realize how much music adds to the cinematic experience, sometimes becoming as important as the visual scenes themselves.

Keeping the importance of such musical works in mind, it becomes important to understand who owns such musical works in cinematographic films considering they are of equal value to both the film’s producer and the author of the work.

What is a musical work?

We all know what music sounds like, yet it is important to define them with respect to the Copyright Act, 1957 so that it is not confused with other works such as a work of sound recordings.

A musical work as defined under the act, is a work consisting of music and includes any graphical notation of such work. What doesn’t qualify as musical works are any words or actions intended to be sung, spoken or performed with the music.

Who is the author of a musical work?

According to the Act, the author in relation to a musical work is known as a “Composer”. A composer is a person who composes the music whether or not he records it in any form of graphical representation.

An application to register a musical work may also be filed by joint authors/composers which has been defined under section 2(z) of the Copyright Act, 1957.

Term of Copyright in Musical works

The musical work enjoys copyright protection from the date of publication and lasts for the entirety of the author’s life and for another sixty years from the beginning of the calendar year following the year in which the author dies.

Who owns copyright to musical work in a film?

Having understood the concept of musical works and how long they last we can safely return to our discussion of musical works in films. Now we already know that the author of the musical work is the composer and according to Section 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957, the author of the work is said to be the first owner of copyright. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Let us first understand who’s the author of a cinematographic film.

According to section 2 (d) (v) of the Act, the author in a cinematographic film is called the producer who is a person that takes the initiative and is responsible for making the film. Section 17 (b) of the act states that where a film is made at the instance of a person who pays consideration for its production then in the absence of any contrary agreement such a person shall be the copyright owner. Thus, when the producer hires a music composer for the purpose of making a film then he becomes the first owner of copyright and no copyright subsists in the composer of the music thereof. 

This is also supported by the argument that an owner is such a person who has spent valuable consideration and effort towards the production of the film and taken the risk of commercial failure. Hence, if the movie becomes a hit, it should be the producer that should reap its benefits.

However, this argument came to an end in 2012 with an amendment to the act which stated that the rights of authors of original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works which are incorporated in a cinematographic film will not be affected even if it is made at the instance of a producer who has invested valuable consideration into it or has employed the author under a contract of service.

Thus, it can be concluded that authors of the original musical work, i.e. the composer, are the first owner of the copyright that is incorporated in a cinematographic film.

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