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This article has been authored by Winnie Mathew, a third-year student at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.

The Concept of Moral Rights

The creation and work of every artist, be it a photograph, a book, a video, song, or any substantial form of creation which reflects the personality and work of its creator, is subject to protection. Moral rights are derived from the fact that a work of art reflects the personality of the author or creator. All creators are entitled to this right as stated under Article 27(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that the author has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic creation.

Moral rights embody the natural rights that an artist, creator or author is entitled to on the creation of a product, design, art, etc. This is a personal legal right which belongs to the author or creator of copyrighted works, and these rights cannot be legally transferred, sold or assigned. It can however be waived off.

Moral rights represent a form of social values that surround creativity, the work of art and ownership or authorship and is based on the idea and belief that a creation or work of art is not a mere means of earning a livelihood but something more. It establishes the value of the creation to society and the value of the service of the creator through his/ her work. Moral rights, in a nutshell, enable the creator to protect the soul and integrity of his/ her work.

Moral Rights in India

The Copyright Act of 1957 confers copyright protection in two forms, one of which is in the form of moral rights. Section 57 of this Act defines the fundamental moral rights of an author or creator. This section establishes (i) the right of paternity and, (ii) the right of integrity, of an author.

The right of paternity essentially, is the right of a creator or an author to claim ownership or authorship of the work in question, and a right to prevent anyone else from claiming authorship of his/ her work. The right of integrity helps preserve the integrity of the author’s work by empowering the author to prevent any sort of distortion, mutilation or any form of modification of his/ her work.

The authors or creators of a work are automatically entitled to moral rights and these rights can remain with authors even after their death. In certain types of works of creation, moral rights exist alongside copyright. Moral rights are usually passed on to the author’s estate on the occasion of his/ her death. This right however, cannot be assigned or legally transferred as in the case of copyright.

Applicability of Moral Rights

The categories or genres of creations that moral rights can be applied to include-

a. Musical works

b. Literary works (written, computer programs, etc.)

c. Dramatic works (plays, screenplays, etc.)

d. Artistic works (paintings, designs, sketches, craftwork, photographs, murals, maps, etc.)

e. Cinematographic films (documentaries, feature films, commercials, music videos, television programs, etc.)

An author is entitled to moral rights for as long as the creation is copyright protected. The period of copyright protection is usually for the lifetime of the author with an additional 60 years. However, the right of integrity lasts for the lifetime of the author and expires on their death.

Infringement of Moral Rights

In cases where the moral rights of an author have been infringed, the Courts have the discretion to choose methods or means for remedies such as damages or an injunction (prescribe damages, order public apologies, reversal of mistreatment of a performance or film, etc.). The Court also considers the efforts on the part of the defendant to reduce the effect of such infringement, before delivering a verdict. In cases where the Court is contemplating granting of an injunction, an opportunity to negotiate a settlement must be ensured to both the parties.[i]

Landmark Cases surrounding Moral Rights in India

The landmark case of Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India proved to be substantial in determining and establishing the significance of moral rights of an artist. This case established the relevance of protecting the soul of artistic expression even when the odds were heavily stacked against the artist. Amarnath Sehgal won the 13 year long legal battle in the High Court of Delhi on the grounds of Moral Rights even though the work was created on commission, and the copyright and economic rights were assigned to the commissioning ministry.

Even though the defendant (the Government of India) had purchased all the rights from the plaintiff and was at liberty to do as it pleased with the mural created by the plaintiff, the judgment was made in favour of the plaintiff in the interest of his moral rights, to which he is entitled for the duration of his lifetime. Ultimately, the plaintiff Amarnath Sehgal won the battle to protect the soul of his artistic expression merely on the basis of the statutory provision under Section 57 of the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, i.e., Author’s special right.

The case of Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures Ltd. clarified the ambit and scope of moral rights under the Indian law of copyright. This case established that the remedy of an injunction or damages can be claimed even after the assignment of the rights by the artist. Section 57 (1)(b) of the Indian Copyright Act 1957 prohibits the mutilation, distortion and modification (unless permitted) of the author’s work. This section empowers the author’s status and does not confine it to the material gains of copyright but rather, gives it a special status. Additionally, it was held that any contract of assignment had to be drawn and read subject to the provisions of Section 57 of the Copyright Act and that the terms of contract cannot nullify and invalidate the special rights and remedies granted under this section.


The essence and relevance of moral rights to an artist, author or creator lies in the ability and power of this right to protect and maintain the integrity, standing and reputation of the artist and his/ her creativity. Indian copyright law at present recognizes integrity rights and paternity rights as moral rights. However, the pattern of judgments of courts indicate that courts favour a wider interpretation of these statutory rights and directs the delivery of justice keeping in mind the best interests and protection of the soul of creativity, integrity and reputation of the artist and his/her creativity.

Reusing works has become prevalent in the modern world, thanks to the fact that it only takes a small amount of time and effort. As a result, artists' freedom to have some influence over how their work is handled and used has become particularly significant. Moral rights are the only way for artists to ensure that their work is not misused because most artists, particularly those of India's music industry, relinquish the copyright in their work to companies or production houses. Therefore, in the author’s opinion, Section 57 must be read in a way that takes into account these developments in today's culture and gives authors more control over how their work is handled and used.

[i] Dr. B.L Wadhwa., Law relating to Intellectual Property Rights, Universal Law Publication Co., 303 (4th ed., 2010)

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