In a case between Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) and Lookpart Exhibitions And Events Private  Limited, Justice Pratibha Singh of the Delhi High Court has sought an expert opinion from Professor Arul George Scaria on the legislative history and scope of Section 52(1)(za) of the Copyright Act.

The specific question  raised is whether use of music in marriage ceremonies and social events is exempted under Section 52(1)(za), and whether such a use may be considered as fair use. The provision reads as follows:

“52(1)(za) the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work or the communication to the public of such work or of a sound recording in the course of any bona fide religious ceremony or an official ceremony held by the Central Government or the State Government or any local authority.

Explanation.– For the purpose of this clause, religious ceremony includes a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage;]”

Professor Arul’s opinion has been sought under Rule 31 of the Delhi High Court’s IPD Rules. Relevant paras of the Court’s decision read as follows:

“12. Keeping in mind the significance of the issue to be adjudicated, this Court is of the opinion that the opinion of an expert would be of assistance to the Court. Accordingly, this Court appoints Dr. Arul George Scaria (M:8527262232) (Email: arulgs@gmail.com), Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director, Centre for Innovation, IP and Competition, National law University, Delhi, who has authored books on Copyright and several articles in the field of IP, as an expert to assist the Court.

  1. Let the Registry issue notice to Dr. Arul George Scaria at the email address and phone number. The expert shall file a written note of submissions on the issue raised in the present case. The expert would consider the legislative history of the provision Section 52(1)(za) of the Copyright Act, 1957, and cite the relevant case law, from India and abroad on the question of fair use and fair dealing. For the said purpose, the Registry to transmit the electronic record of the present case to the expert.
  1. The Court fixes the fee of the expert at a lump sum of Rs.1,00,000/-.

Ld. Counsels for the Plaintiff have fairly agreed to bear the said fee of the expert.”

Over the years, rights management organisations and content owners have been working towards expanding the scope of their licensing territory with respect to ground performances, hotel music, and events of different kinds.

While they have been able to extend their licensing portfolio and revenues to music played at hotels, clubs and pubs easily, they have not been able to break into community events, social events, religious ceremonies, and marriage ceremonies. This case by PPL against an event management company is an attempt to overcome the hurdles they have been facing, and the Delhi High Court’s judgment in this case will  determine whether  licenses have to be acquired before  using lyrics, musical compositions, and sound recordings in social events. As the Court pointed out, a decision on this issue will impact both content creators and the society at large. In the said context, Professor Arul’s expert opinion in the case assumes high importance.

Case Citation: Phonographic Performance … vs Lookpart Exhibitions And Events …, Decided by Delhi High Court on 11 May, 2022, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/60492021/, visited on 18th May, 2022.

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