Dr. Arul George Scaria, who was appointed as an independent expert on the legal issue of the use of music in marriages, informed the Delhi High Court that, in accordance with Section 52(1)(za) of the Copyright Act, 1957, a proper balance must be struck between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of users or society through limitations and exceptions.
Dr. Scaria is an Associate Professor at the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru.
Section 52(1)(za) states that public performance or disclosure to the public of sound recordings in the course of legitimate religious rituals or an official ceremony is free from copyright infringement penalties. According to the provision’s interpretation, a religious service comprises a wedding procession and other social events linked with marriage.
The court was hearing a case filed by Phonographic Performance Limited, which is in the business of issuing licences to the public for song performance or transmission based on assignments granted to it by owners of copyright in sound recordings. The lawsuit was brought by the corporation against an event management company that provides DJ services at social gatherings such as weddings.
Scaria was chosen as an expert by Justice Pratibha M Singh in May to help the court on the legal matter since the bench believed that any judgement on the issue brought by the plaintiff could have far-reaching consequences for artists, societies, and other parties. In July, he submitted written submissions.
The Plaintiff’s contention was that the Defendant was regularly employing sound recordings in which the Plaintiff held rights at numerous social gatherings controlled and organised by it at commercial venues. However, before the court could rule on the legal question and the parties’ facts, they resolved the case on October 10.
The expert noted in the submissions entered on record by the court that Section 52(1)(za) should be construed in a way that protects and promotes the constitutional right to celebrate marriage-related festivities in accordance with one’s own tradition and culture. This is especially significant given India’s cultural variety, according to the expert.
Furthermore, it was argued that, given the Indian socioeconomic, legal, and cultural context, the provision supports a broad interpretation to cover all social festivities involved with a marriage, rather than just the specific religious ceremonies related with marriage solemnization.
“…marriage is one of the most important social institutions in India and marriage ceremonies as well as the related festivities are given the highest importance by most communities in India. S. 52(1)(za) needs to be interpreted in a manner that protects and promotes the important constitutional right under Article 21 of the Constitution to perform marriage and engage in marriage related festivities in accordance with one’s own tradition and culture,” the submissions read.
According to the expert, because the Supreme Court has now interpreted copyright infringement as a cognizable and non-bailable offence under Section 63 of the Act, a narrow reading of the provision may result in “potential harassment by police officers and copyright owners” during ceremonial occasions or festivities associated with the marriage. Scaria further stated that potential police interference during marriage or any social festivities related with marriage is a potential threat to the constitutionally established right to privacy.
“…it is suggested that when someone performs music as part of any of the wedding-related celebrations, they merely do so on behalf of the individuals who hired them (in other words, the people who are getting married), who have a financial interest in the outcome.”
“it is submitted that when someone performs music as part of any of the marriage related festivities, they merely do so on behalf of the people who hired them (in other words, people who are getting married), who in turn have a specific user right/ privilege under S. 52(1)(za) of the Act to use music/ sound recordings as part of marriage related festivities,” the expert said.
Case Title: PHONOGRAPHIC PERFORMANCE LIMITED v. LOOKPART EXHIBITIONS AND EVENTS PRIVATE LIMITED