The Bombay High Court has held that it is not necessary for the owners/assignees of copyright to be registered as copyright societies for carrying on the business of granting licenses of their works.
The High Court for this purpose observed that Section 33(1) of the Copyright Act [relating to copyright societies] does not curtail the power of the owner/assignee/duly authorised agent to grant any interest in the copyright by license under Section 30 [relating to licences by owners of copyright].
The contention that “no person” in Section 33(1) includes an “owner” of copyright and therefore even an “owner” of copyright cannot commence or carry on the business of granting copyright licenses, was hence rejected. The Court in Novex Communications Pvt Ltd. v. Trade Wings Hotels Limited was of the view that the prohibition as contemplated under Section 33(1) is on carrying on business of licensing by a person or association of persons in its own name for works in which ‘others’ hold copyright.
Further, taking note of Section 34(1)(b) which provides that an owner has right to withdraw authorization given to the copyright society, the Court was of the view that an author or other owner/assignee does not have to carry on the business of licensing his works only through a copyright society.
The High Court in its Judgement dated 24 January 2024 also held that Chapter VII of the Copyright Act, which contains Section 33, only gives a choice to the author/ owner to either exploit its copyright on its own or to exploit its copyright through a Copyright Society. According to the Court, the idea of a Copyright Society is to assist the owner and not take away rights from an owner.
The Court also held as misconceived the interpretation of word ‘business’ in Section 33(1) by referring to Rule 2(c) of the Copyright Rules, 2013. According to it, a wide meaning of ‘business’ would lead to conflict between Sections 30 and 33.
The High Court was also of the view that definition in Rule 2(c) applies only to the rules and cannot be applied to interpret Section 33(1), a provision of the primary statute and one that came 19 years before said rule. Further, rejecting the contention that since Section 33 was a later provision (later than Section 30) and hence it would prevail, the Court observed that Section 30 is the leading provision and if there is a conflict between two provisions of a statute then it has to be determined which is the leading provision.
The High Court also did not find any merit in the argument that a distinction has been drawn between the granting of individual licenses by the owner and the carrying on of business of granting licenses by the owner which makes Section 33(1) applicable.
It may be noted that the Bombay High Court differed with the views of the decision of the Madras High Court in Novex Communications v. DXC Technology Pvt. Ltd., which according to the Court overlooked Section 30.