The Viewpoint: Tis the season of weddings…and copyright notices?

Can copyright societies sue or send notices for playing music during marriage functions?
Vikrant Rana and Pranit Biswas
Vikrant Rana and Pranit BiswasADMIN

It was widely reported by many news outlets that Delhi saw around 8,000 weddings on November 21 this year. This is indeed a season of joy, and many readers may have even partaken in such wedding festivities in these last few weeks.

However, there is an unseen and invisible apprehension that looms menacingly over such events, one which most organizers and participants do not even consider, let alone the bride and groom. This is the apprehension of getting sued or receiving a notice for playing copyrighted songs/sound recordings at such events.

Some recent news reports are giving cause for concern. In October 2021, there was a news report regarding a FIR registered by the Pune City Police against Phonographic Performance Pvt Ltd and Novex Communications Pvt Ltd for extortion, cheating and conspiracy. The FIR alleged that the field officers of both the organizations allegedly used to make organizers of weddings at hotels pay hefty amounts after threatening various provisions under the Copyright Act for not obtaining licenses. This has indeed been a nightmare scenario for the marriage participants as well as the organizers. Thus, this is a question which ought to be discussed very seriously, as a Big Fat Indian Wedding cannot simply happen without music, let alone important parts such as Baraats! Read more to find out.

An interesting judgment regarding the subject matter was passed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in 2011 in the case of Phonographic Performance Ltd v. State of Punjab. Phonographic Performance Ltd. (PPL), which owns and controls the public performance rights of various music labels and millions of domestic and international sound recordings, made a claim against Light Sound and DJ Association for royalties for the performance of a DJ in a marriage hall. The DJ association relied on Section 52(1)(za), which makes an exception for musical work played in the course of any bona fide religious ceremonies (including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage).

The Court however, rejected this contention and observed that a DJ performing at marriage events is a function that is connected to the marriage but does not amount to conducting the marriage, and hence a license is to be obtained for performances of such functions even if it were to take place during a religious ceremony. Thus, the above judgment of the High Court does prima facie appear to go against the spirit of Section 52(1)(za), as a social function relating to an Indian wedding and DJs playing music therein is practically a norm. Thus, the subject matter indeed needs clarification and exploration.

Rights of copyright owners

The creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and the producers of cinematograph films and sound recordings have a bundle of rights under the Copyright Act, 1957, which aims to protect all such rights of a person by making it mandatory to obtain a license before using their work.

Section 51 of the Act requires that a person who even permits for profit the use of any place for communication of a copyrighted work to the public such that the communication amounts to copyright infringement, is liable for copyright infringement. Thus, as weddings are typically held in hotels, banquets, commercial halls, the above section prima appears to cover such venues, which is a matter of concern. However, there is an exception under Copyright Law specifically for such situations with respect to marriages and related social functions, and the same is elaborated upon below.

Exception for weddings/marriages under the Copyright Act, 1957

Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 provides for certain acts which do not constitute an infringement of copyright. Section 52(1)(za) of the Act specifically excludes religious ceremonies, including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage from the ambit of obtaining mandatory license even if there is performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work or the communication to the public of such work or of a sound recording in such events.

In fact, an explanation clause in the said provision specifically states that the above clause covers "religious ceremony including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage." As the above also explicitly includes "other social festivities associated with a marriage," it can also be construed that the exception also covers social functions such as engagements/rokas, wedding tilaks, etc.

Clarity provided by government notification – The current legal position

The stand had been made clear by the Copyright Office vide a notice dated August 27, 2019, which states that the utilization of any sound recording in the course of a religious ceremony including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage does not amount to infringement of copyright and is excluded under Section 52(1) (za) of the Copyright Act 1957. Hence no license is required to be obtained for the said purpose. Copy of the said notice is pasted below for ease of reference:

Public notice issued by DPIIT
Public notice issued by DPIIT

Further clarification on IPRS website

The Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), which is one of India’s leading copyright societies, is tasked with collecting royalties from infringers and also being the watchdog for safeguarding the rights of its members. IPRS on its website has specifically stated that it does not collect royalties or issue licenses for marriages or social festivities associated with marriages, as the same is exempted under Section 52(1)(zb) of the Copyright Act, 1957. The relevant screenshot from the IPRS website is copied below:

FAQ on IPRS website
FAQ on IPRS websiteIPRS website

Thus, Section 52 of the Act would logically allay any fears or concerns one might have regarding copyright concerns during marriage proceedings.

The authors are Managing Partner and Senior Associate respectively at SS Rana & Co.

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