Latest Copyright Cases – 2021 – Part 6

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Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran v. S. Vijayaraghavan & Anr

The Plaintiff, Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran, wife of late Pulavar Keeran, a famous religious Hindu preacher and historian, sought a declaration from the Madras High Court that she was the rightful owner of the copyright of her husband’s works. She also filed for an injunction against the Defendants, asking them to surrender all master tapes containing original recordings of the speeches, lectures and discourses and in any other form like cassettes or CDs.  Pulavar Keeran had met Defendant No. 1., S. Vijayaraghavan, who was the proprietor of Vani Recording Co., a small audio cassette shop in 1987, and decided to record his concerts in the form of 38 cassettes between 1987 and 1990 and sell them so they could be listened to at people’s convenience. He allowed Defendant No. 1 to promote the cassettes in exchange for incurring the expenses involved in making the recordings. Defendant No. 1 also sold certain cassettes through a dealer, along with a temporary mutually beneficial agreement based on the market and the number of copies sold.

The Plaintiff claimed that her husband did permit any further reproduction after a formal agreement laying down the profit-sharing ratio was in place. He did not part with the copyright, and was not paid by Defendant No. 1 for his recordings. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1990, so he only completed recording 12 of his works. The Plaintiff entrusted the master tapes with Defendant No. 1 based on his assurance that he would keep it safe and maintain them well in his shop, but intended to retain the copyright of her husband’s works. S. Vijayaraghavan commercially exploited the recorded works, against the Plaintiff’s wishes, while she was abroad. The Plaintiff’s counsel stated that as per Section 2(d) and Section 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957, the Plaintiff would be the rightful copyright owner as she was a legal heir, and Defendant No. 1 did not assist in the capacity of a producer.

The counsel for the Defendants claimed that the sound recordings were the work of a producer, which in this case was Defendant No. 1. They also claimed that the present suit was filed back in 2004, and was thus barred by limitation as it was 13 years after the preacher’s death in 1990. The Court stated that this argument did not hold water, because the copyright was valid till 1/1/1991, i.e. 60 years from beginning of the next calendar year after the death of Pulavar Keeran. The Court analysed Section 2(d), 13, 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957 and Section 2 of the Berne Convention. The Court held that the copyright holder would be the Plaintiff, and granted a permanent injunction against the Defendants, restraining them from using, selling, distributing, broadcasting as a whole or exploiting the literary works in isolation (transcript of speeches) through any media.

Citation: Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran vs S. Vijayaraghavan & Anr., Decided by The Madras High Court on 1st September, 2021, available at Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran v. S. Vijayaraghavan, last visited on 11th October, 2021.

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