Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India [2005 (30) PTC 253 Del] - Case Study
Author: Swarnima Sharma
1. The petitioner, Mr. Amarnath Sehgal was a notable personality among the modern artists and sculptors during the 1950s and was internationally recognized for his work.
2. In 1957, he was appointed, by the Ministry of Works, Housing, and Supplies to prepare a mural for India’s first convention center Vigyan Bhavan.
3. The mural depicting the concept of rural and modern India was prepared in five years and installed at Vigyan Bhavan in 1962. It was a charming sight that stood as tall as 140 feet and was 40 feet wide.
4. For nearly two decades, the mural added to the grace of the building. It would attract patrons from all over the world to get a glimpse of the work.
5. In 1979, Vigyan Bhavan underwent a renovation, and during this process, the mural was pulled down from the wall, and the remnants were confined to a storeroom without any permission or intimation to the plaintiff.
6. When the plaintiff came to know of this, he communicated the same to the government and demanded the restoration of the damage that was made to his work. However, this was to no avail.
7. The mural had suffered damage due to the negligent treatment it was subjected to. For this reason, the plaintiff sued the government under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
The Hon’ble High Court recognized the following issues in this case:
1. Whether the suit is maintainable under the Limitation Act, 1963?
2. Whether the author (petitioner) have greater standing against the respondent under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957?
3. Whether the petitioner’s rights have been violated by the act of the respondent under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957?
4. Whether there have been any damages suffered by the petitioner due to the act of the respondent?
Copyright is a right that allows the creator of a work to ensure the safety of the same, and to protect the creativity of the same. The right of the author to claim ownership of his work along with his right to restrain, or claim damages is known as the author’s “moral rights”. The Court closely examined these rights given under Section 57 under the Copyright Act, 1957.
Verbatim, the proviso dictates as follows:
“Author’s special right
(1) Independently of the author’s copyright and even after the assignment either wholly or partially of the said copyright, the author of a work shall have the right-
(a) to claim authorship of the work; and
(b) to restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, modification or other act about the said work……..”
Section 57 is covered under chapter XII of the Copyright Act, 1957, which contains civil remedies. It essentially refers to it being a statutory recognition of the special care with which intellectual property is regarded.
The Court also relied on the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan (AIR 1997 SC 3011) and stated that the absence of domestic law in a field that can be read, with International Conventions, results in a gap and inconsistency in the domestic law itself.
Art and culture are flourishing, and it has opened up a new dimension where we are challenged with cultural dilemmas while recognizing artistic integrity and freedom. While providing the artists and creators with rights such as copyright, trademark, and patents, we must also work on balancing the outcomes from these laws. Merely providing them a certain place in the framework and now granting any actual execution is not sufficient. Similarly, the attention to detail in every form of protective rights must be uniform and must be reflected in each of the rights that are provided to the authors.
“The Cinderella (Copyright) of the family of intellectual property, long pushed into the chimney seeks, in the present proceedings, to endow herself with the gift of the fairy godmother - the magical pumpkin coach and the mice footmen.”
A welfare state aims to guarantee the protection of intellectual toil or labor. The idea of the creator enjoying the fruits from his labor can be traced back to John Locke’s labor theory. This theory especially plays into policymaking in the field of IPR as it provides a justifiable right to the author or creator. This theory is called the Theory of Unilateral Appropriation or the Labor Theory of Ownership. The essence of the theory rests on the idea that the creation or invention of any person should be respected by others by providing the basic moral obligation, that it affords.
In the field of art and culture, the contribution made is in the public domain, and therefore some responsibility must flow from their end to balance out the dynamic of the work delivered by the artist. Intellectual Property Rights are a bundle of rights that have been recognized and reinforced by several International Covenants and Conventions, the guarantee of such rights should also aim at professing the duties that the public/clients of the artist or creators are supposed to comply with. The need for uniform laws regarding IPRs is imminent, and however, it can be seen in several examples that moral rights cannot be given an airtight definition. The changing times push the margin of coverage regarding moral rights a little further each time.
The Court after appreciating all the facts and arguments from both parties mentioned that the damage caused is by nature extreme mutilation of the artwork and the same cannot be excused considering the amount of work that has gone into the making of the mural. The Doctrine of Sweat of the Brow can also be mentioned here to infer that the amount of work and creative energy that was put in to complete a piece of original work should be credited with the respect it deserves. The judgment reflected on this and expressed that there is a requirement to widen the scope of moral rights of authors and creators so that artistic integrity remains protected.
In this technical day and age, we often tend to forget the contributions made by creative geniuses in the form of art, literature, etc. The industrialization of Indian society is a step forward, but at the same time, one should not forget what India is known and appreciated for – its culture and heritage. The mural created by the plaintiff was a true and fit example of the Indian heritage, and for it to be the main attraction in India’s first-ever Convention Centre was a matter of pride for him personally as well as for us as a country since it later turned out to be a great attraction for several patrons of art. From the present case, it is clear that ‘once vested, the bundle of rights known collectively as “the copyright” gives the author the exclusive rights to reproduce, to adapt, to distribute, to perform publicly and to display the copyrighted work’
 Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1990275/