The Copyright Act of 1957 is the principal legislation governing copyright in India. Its primary objectives are twofold: firstly, to ensure that authors, musicians, artists, designers, and other creative individuals retain the rights to their creative expressions, and secondly, to facilitate the development of new works based on existing concepts and knowledge. India's copyright laws have roots in the colonial era under British rule. The Indian Copyright Act of 1957 came into force in January 1958 and has since undergone five revisions, in 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994, and 1999. It marked India's first independent copyright law post-independence, and it has been amended six times since its inception. The most recent amendment was the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 2012, passed in 2012. The framework of copyright in India is defined by the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, as amended over time, and the Indian Copyright Rules of 1958.

Copyright law, as its name implies, is a straightforward legal principle that asserts if you create something, you have ownership over it, and you alone determine its fate. The primary aim of this copyright law is twofold: firstly, to ensure that authors, composers, artists, designers, and other creative individuals, who invest their resources in sharing their works with the public, retain the rights to their original expressions, and secondly, to foster an environment where others can innovate freely based on the ideas and knowledge communicated through a work.

What is Copyright?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property right, protects authors who produce original works such as literature (including computer programs, tables, collections, datasets expressed in words, codes, schemes, or any other form, along with a device-readable medium), dramatic, musical, and artistic works, cinematographic films, and audio recordings under Indian law. Rather than safeguarding ideas themselves, Copyright Law safeguards the tangible expressions of those ideas. Literary works, dramatic works, musical works, artistic works, cinematographic films, and sound recordings all receive copyright protection under Section 13 of the Copyright Act of 1957. For instance, the Act shields literary works like books and computer programs.


The term "copyright" encompasses a set of exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner by Section 14 of the Act. Only the copyright owner or someone authorized by the copyright owner may exercise these rights. These rights include the ability to adapt, reproduce, publish, translate, and communicate the work to the public, among others. Copyright registration merely records the work in the Copyright Register maintained by the Registrar of Copyrights and does not confer any additional rights.


In India, the first copyright law was introduced during the rule of the British East India Company with the enactment of the Indian Copyright Act, 1847. This law aimed to enforce English copyright regulations in India. Subsequently, the Copyright Act of 1911 repealed and replaced the earlier legislation, extending its application to all British colonies, including India. Later, in 1914, the Indian Copyright Act, 1914, introduced further modifications, which remained in force in India until the enactment of the Copyright Act of 1957 by the independent Indian Parliament.


Copyright is primarily designed to promote progress in science and the arts and to provide authors with fair compensation for their efforts. To achieve this, copyright grants authors exclusive rights to their creative works while also allowing others to build upon the ideas and knowledge presented in those works. The main objectives of copyright law are twofold. Firstly, it aims to protect the original expressions of writers, musicians, artists, designers, and other creators, as well as producers of films and sound recordings, who invest resources to share their works with the public. Secondly, copyright legislation enables others to freely expand on the ideas and suggestions contained in a work, while also permitting certain unrestricted uses of copyrighted content. The Copyright Act of 1957 delineates the scope of these permissible uses, aiming to strike a balance between the rights of copyright holders and the public interest in promoting societal welfare.


Copyright, by its nature, is an intangible form of property. It is based on the premise that the rightful owner has created or developed the work, thereby justifying their ownership of it. The owner of this property has two main options for managing it: either through an outright sale (assignment of rights) or through licensing. Copyright comprises a set of exclusive rights. A negative right grants the owner the ability to prevent others from copying their creation or engaging in any other actions that, according to Copyright Law, are reserved solely for the owner. The exclusive rights attached to copyrighted works have a finite duration. Unlike physical property, which persists for the lifetime of the object, copyright exists for a limited period of time. Once this period elapses, the work enters the 'public domain,' becoming freely available for use by anyone without restrictions. Thus, the public interest is served by granting exclusive rights to copyrighted works for a limited duration.



  1. The author is conferred with a range of rights under copyright law:

Under Section 13 of the Copyright Act of 1957, literary works, musical works, dramatic works, artistic works, sound recordings, and cinematographic films are all granted protection by copyright law. For example, the Act safeguards literary works such as books, manuscripts, poetry, and theses. Original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic creations, along with cinematographic and sound recordings, are shielded from unauthorized use under the Copyright Act of 1957. Unlike patents, copyright protects expressions rather than ideas.

  1. Provisions are in place to establish ownership:

As per Section 17 of the Copyright Act of 1957, the creator of the work holds the original copyright ownership. However, an exception arises when an employee produces work during the course of their employment duties, in which case the employer assumes copyright ownership.

  1. Civil and Criminal remedies:

Section 55 of the Copyright Act of 1957 outlines civil remedies available for copyright infringement. These include restitution, injunctions, account interpretations, removal and surrender of infringing copies, as well as compensatory damages. Meanwhile, Section 63 of the Copyright Act of 1957 delineates criminal penalties for copyright infringement. These penalties may involve imprisonment, fines, search operations, and the confiscation of illicit materials. The maximum imprisonment term is 3 years, with a minimum of 6 months, and fines range from 50,000 to 2,00,000 rupees.

  1. Establishing of Copyright Boards and offices:

The Copyright Act of 1957 includes provisions for setting up a copyright board to aid in resolving copyright-related matters and a copyright office, overseen by the Registrar of Copyright, for registering books and other artistic "works". Section 9 of the Copyright Act, 1957, outlines the establishment of an office designated as the Copyright Office for Act purposes. Additionally, the Copyright Board was instituted in accordance with Section 11 of the Copyright Act of 1957.

  1. Fee Application for copyright registration in India:

Depending on the type of work covered by copyright legislation, creators seeking copyright registration must pay a designated fee. Below are the costs associated with copyright registration for various types of projects.

Copyright protection for 

Fee charged by the copyright office 

Artistic, musical, drama and literary works 

Rs. 500 per work 

Artistic and literary works used for goods 

Rs. 2000 per work 

Sound recording 

Rs. 2000 per work 

Cinematograph films

Rs. 5000 per work 


Subject Matter of Copyright:

Depending on the type of work covered by copyright legislation, creators seeking copyright registration must pay a designated fee. Below are the costs associated with copyright registration for various types of projects.

All categories of content protected by copyright are collectively referred to as 'works'. As per Section 13 of The Copyright Act 1957, the following types of works may be eligible for protection:


  1. Original Literary Works.
  2. Original Dramatic Works,
  3. Original Musical Works,
  4. Original Artistic Works,
  5. Cinematographic Films, and
  6. Sound Recordings.


Original Literary Work: It refers to the creation of the human intellect, which may comprise a sequence of written or numerical statements, not necessarily possessing aesthetic value, capable of being expressed in writing, and developed through significant independent skill, creative effort, or judgment. The Copyright Act of 1957 provides a comprehensive definition of literary work, encompassing elements such as computer programming, tables, and compilations including computer databases.

Original Dramatic Work: As defined by the Copyright Act of 1957, dramatic work encompasses any composition for recitation, choreographic piece, or entertainment in silent performances, as well as the scenic arrangement or acting form captured in writing or other forms, excluding cinematographic films. The inclusive nature of this definition implies that other forms fitting within the general notion of dramatic work may also be covered.

Original Musical Work: Under the Copyright Act of 1957, musical work denotes any creation comprising music, including any visual representation of such work, but excluding any lyrics or actions intended to be sung, spoken, or performed alongside the music. To be eligible for copyright protection, a musical work must be original.

Original Artistic Work: As per the Copyright Act of 1957, artistic work encompasses paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, photographs possessing artistic qualities, as well as architectural designs and works demonstrating artistic craftsmanship.

Cinematographic Films: According to the Copyright Act of 1957, cinematographic films encompass any visual recording accompanied by a sound recording, with the term 'cinematograph' interpreted to include any work produced through processes similar to cinematography, including video films.

Sound Recording: According to The Copyright Act, 1957, a sound recording refers to a recording of sounds capable of being reproduced, regardless of the medium or method used for recording.

Clause (a) of this Section 13 provides the definition of an original work, while clauses (b) and (c) protect derivative works. This Section clarifies that copyright is subject to the provisions outlined within it, and therefore, the various provisions of the Act are not considered separate entities. It emphasizes that copyright is a statutory right, and no rights outside of the Act are claimed.


In the Copyright Act of 1957, the owner holds negative rights, allowing them to prevent others from using their works in specific ways and to seek compensation for any infringement of those rights. The Act grants two types of rights to the owner:

  1. Economic rights.
  2. Moral rights.

Economic Rights:

Also termed as Exclusive Rights, these are bestowed upon the copyright holder under Section 14 of the Copyright Act. Different categories of works are associated with distinct sets of rights:

For original literary, musical, and dramatic works:

- Right to reproduce

- Right to issue copies

- Right to publicly perform

- Right to create cinematographic and sound recordings

- Right to translate

- Right to adapt

- Right to undertake any other activities related to translation or adaptation.


For computer program works:

- Right to perform any aforementioned acts

- Right to sell, rent, or offer for sale the copyrighted work.


For artistic works:

- Right to reproduce

- Right to communicate

- Right to issue copies

- Right to create cinematographic and sound recordings

- Right to adapt

- Right to undertake any other activities related to translation or adaptation.


For cinematographic film works:

- Right to sell, rent, or offer for sale the copyrighted work

- Right to communicate.


For sound recording works:

- Right to communicate

- Right to issue copies

- Right to sell, rent, or offer for sale the copyrighted work.


Moral Rights:

In addition to safeguarding economic rights, the Copyright Act, 1957 also upholds moral rights. Recognizing that literary or artistic works reflect the creator's persona, these rights preserve the integrity and authorship of the work beyond mere commercial interests. These rights are enshrined in Article 6 of the Berne Convention of 1886, an international treaty for the protection of literary and artistic works, which emphasizes the principle of national treatment.

Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 identifies two types of moral rights:

1. Right to paternity – encompassing the assertion of authorship and prevention of false claims to authorship.

2. Right to integrity – incorporating the authority to restrain or seek damages for any distortion, modification, mutilation, or other acts detrimental to the honor or reputation of the creator's work.


Section 17 of this Act acknowledges the author as the initial copyright holder, stipulating that, subject to the provisions herein, the author of a work shall be deemed the first owner of the copyright therein:

  • For literary or dramatic compositions, the author,
  • For musical works, the composer,
  • For artistic works excluding photography, the artist,
  • For photographic works, the photographer,
  • For cinematographic or recording works, the producer,
  • For works generated by computer viruses, the creator.


However, this provision is subject to certain exceptions:

  • If the creation is made by the author under the employment of the proprietor of any newspaper, magazine, or periodical, the said proprietor,
  • If a photograph is taken, painting or portrait is commissioned for valuable consideration by any person, such person,
  • If a work is produced in the course of the author's employment under a contract of service, the employer,
  • If an address or speech is delivered on behalf of another person in public, such person,
  • For government works, the government,
  • For works produced under the direction and control of a public undertaking, such public undertaking,
  • For works produced under the provisions of Section 41, the relevant international organizations.



The copyright owner has the opportunity to not only exploit their rights for personal gain but also to collaborate with others for mutual advantage through assignment and licensing agreements.

Exclusive authority is granted solely to the copyright owner to assign either wholly or partially their existing or future copyrighted works. Following such assignment, the assignee assumes all rights pertaining to the copyrighted work and is recognized as the rightful owner of the copyright in relation to those rights.


As per Section 19, the following conditions must be met for a valid assignment:

  • The agreement must be in writing and signed;
  • It must clearly outline the types of rights assigned and the duration or territorial scope;
  • It must specify the amount of royalty payable, if applicable.

Additionally, if the agreement does not specify a duration, it will be deemed to last for five years. Similarly, if no territorial extent is mentioned, it will be presumed to apply to the entirety of India.


Civil remedies

These remedies are given under Section 55 of the Copyright Act,1957 which are:

Interlocutory Injunction:

This serves as a crucial remedy against copyright infringement, involving a legal process where an individual threatening or already infringing upon another's legal or equitable rights is restrained from continuing such actions, or is directed to restore the situation to its previous state. To grant an interlocutory injunction, the following three factors are deemed necessary:

Prima facie case: The court assumes that the plaintiff can potentially succeed in the case and qualify for relief.

Balance of convenience: The court evaluates which party would suffer greater harm, a determination that varies based on the specifics of each case.

Irreparable injury: This aspect is challenging to ascertain on a case-by-case basis. Examples may include loss of goodwill, irreversible damage to reputation, or loss of market share.

Mareva Injunction:

This specific form of interlocutory injunction prohibits the defendant from disposing of assets that might be needed to satisfy the plaintiff's claim or from removing them from the jurisdiction of the court.


This order allows for the seizure of infringing documents, copies, and other relevant materials of the defendant by the plaintiff's solicitor. Named after the case of Anton Piller KG v. Manufacturing Process Ltd, 1976, where the plaintiff successfully obtained ex-parte orders restraining the use of copyrighted products by the defendant.

John Doe Order:

This order empowers the court to issue injunctions against unidentified individuals allegedly violating copyright rights. It is directed towards those whose identities are unknown to the plaintiff but are suspected of wrongdoing.

Pecuniary Remedies:

There are three types of pecuniary remedies available:

  • An account of profit: Allows the owner to seek compensation equal to the profits generated through unlawful conduct.
  • Compensatory damages: Permit the copyright owner to seek damages for losses suffered.
  • Conversion damages: Evaluated based on the value of the article.


Section 63 of the Copyright Act outlines criminal remedies for copyright infringement. According to this section, individuals found guilty of willfully infringing or aiding in the infringement of a copyrighted work will face a minimum prison sentence of six months and a fine of at least 50,000 rupees. Upon a second offense under Section 63A, the individual will incur an additional minimum prison term of one year and a fine of no less than one lakh rupees, owing to the prevalence of copyright infringement. Section 63B addresses intentional use of illegal copies of computer software, mandating a minimum seven-day prison sentence and a fine of at least 50,000 rupees.

The criminal remedies for copyright infringement under Section 63 include:

- Imprisonment ranging from six months to three years;

- A fine ranging from 50,000 to 2,00,000 rupees;

- Search and seizure of copyrighted goods; and

- Surrender of copyrighted goods to the copyright owner.

  • For repeat offenders, the minimum punishment increases to one year in prison and a fine of one lakh rupees, while the maximum punishment remains the same as for first-time offenders.



In conclusion, the Copyright Act of 1957 stands as a cornerstone in safeguarding intellectual property rights in India. With its comprehensive provisions, it ensures protection for creators while facilitating the dissemination of knowledge and creativity. By granting exclusive rights to authors and creators, it incentivizes innovation and artistic expression. Through its various remedies, including civil, criminal, and pecuniary, it upholds the rights of copyright owners and deters infringement. As a dynamic legal framework, it continues to evolve to address contemporary challenges in the digital age, fostering a vibrant cultural and economic landscape while promoting the fair and equitable use of copyrighted works.