Kannada Lyricist Hamsalekha Wins Copyright Case Against Saavn


The Plaintiff, Hamsalekha, is a well-known lyricist and composer of several musical works and a member of IPRS. He initiated proceedings against 5 defendants including Saavn for commercial exploitation of his works with respect to which he had not received any royalties. He alleged that 4 of the defendants were making songs incorporating his works available for internet streaming. Further, they were also failing to provide due and proper name credits to the Plaintiff and to protect the authorship right and share economic benefit to the Plaintiff. He also alleged that Defendant 1, apart from having agreements with Defendant Nos. 2 to 5, has been entering into various agreements locally which are beyond the capacity of IPRS, thereby violating his statutory rights.

The present judgement pertains to a revision petition filed by Defendant 3 in the above suit. It contended that the Plaintiff lacked standing, and the plaint did not disclose a cause of action.

Defendant 3 in its revision petition contended the following:

  1. The Plaintiff as a member of IPRS had assigned all his rights to IPRS and had no residual rights to agitate the present suit. Further, the Plaintiff’s claim for royalties was contrary to and barred by Section 16 of the Copyright Act, 1957. Additionally, the Plaintiff was an Author by virtue of being a Music Composer and he was neither the owner of the works in question nor the copy rights assigned as defined under Section 33(1) of the Act.
  2. The Plaintiff had no cause of action in view of the settled legal position regarding the utilization of the sound recordings. Relying on the Apex Court’s decision in IPRS vs Eastern Indian Motions Pictures Association and others, it was contended that the rights of the authors of the underlying literary and musical works were subsumed in the derivative sound recording which was an independent copyrighted work under the ownership of producer. Therefore, the rights of sound recording as mentioned in Section 14(e) of the Act could only be enjoyed by the owner of the sound recording without any interference from the authors of underlying works, namely, literary works and musical works.
  3. The suit was liable to be rejected owing to undervaluation. The Plaintiff had undervalued the suit to file it before the trial Court instead of filing the same before the Commercial Court which ordinarily had jurisdiction.

The said application was opposed by the Plaintiff and heard by the trial Court along with the similar application filed by the other defendants. The trial court passed an order dated 22-05-2023 dismissing the applications. Aggrieved by the said order, Defendant 3 approached the High Court in revision.


Issues and Order

The only issue for consideration before the High Court was whether Defendant No.3 had made out any grounds envisaged under Order VII Rule 11 of CPC for rejection of the plaint.

The High Court dismissed the revision petition based on the reasoning as elaborated below, and found no reason to interfere with the order of the trial court.


The Court’s Reasoning and Analysis

The Court analysed 2 aspects under Rule 11: cause of action and standing.

  1. In respect of the cause of action, the Court found that Plaintiff had prima facie disclosed the cause of action in Para 23 of the plaint, wherein he had become aware of the exploitation without providing any royalties or attributions, and had issued notices to the Defendants. The Court stated that it would not enter into the question whether it was a proper cause of action or not, and also would not examine the correctness or otherwise of the cause of action at this juncture, when the initial bar was raised by defendant 3 in its revision petition. The relation between the said cause of action and the prayer made in the plaint could only be ascertained at the time of trial. Therefore, the plaint could not be rejected on the ground that it does not disclose the cause of action.
  2. In respect of standing (locus standi), the court examined the valuation and the Plaintiff’s statutory rights.

a. Regarding valuation, Defendant 3 contended that the suit being a commercial dispute, the Plaintiff should have disclosed the specified value as defined under the provisions of the Commercial Courts Act. The Court noted that filing of the suit in a Court having no jurisdiction could not be a ground to invoke the provisions of Order VII Rule 11 of CPC, as it was covered by Rule 10, which allowed Return of Plaint. Hence, Defendant 3, under the guise of improper valuation of suit or not mentioning the specified value (under CCA), could not seek that the suit of the Plaintiff was barred for non-filing the same in the Commercial Court.

The Court further noted that the question of valuation was not raised before the trial Court. Moreover, where the relief was undervalued and the Plaintiff was required to pay the Court the correct fee within the time fixed by the Court, if he fails to do so, then only, the plaint was liable to be rejected. The Plaintiff had called for accounts and made the valuation nominal, and hence the Court found no fault with this action. Therefore, the plaint could not be dismissed on grounds of valuation or jurisdiction.

b. Regarding the Plaintiff’s statutory rights, the assignment of rights to IPRS was not disputed. Whether the Plaintiff had assigned all his rights to IPRS was a question of fact, for which the Court referred to the Assignment Deeds. The Court also looked into Section 33 of the Copyright Act which pertains to Copyright Societies, and Section 57 which covers an author’s moral rights. Based on a combined reading of the above provisions, the Court noted that the Plaintiff was allowed to claim authorship of his works, and this was not barred by Section 33 as the Plaintiff was not in the business of granting licenses. The Court further clarified that the Supreme Court decision in IPRS vs EIMPA (supra) preceded the 2012 amendment of the Copyright Act, and the aspect of amalgamation was to be determined based on evidence. Thus, every sound recording would not be hit by that decision.



The Court decided in favour of the authors on 2 relevant issues for underlying works. First, the court held that assignment of rights to IPRS did not bar authors from filing a suit for moral rights. Even if the person exploiting the works had acquired a license from IPRS, the author could ring a suit for failing to respect his/her moral rights or providing proper attributions/credits. Second, the court held that the author could not be forced to bring such disputes as a commercial suit.


Relevant Paragraphs: 

The relevant paras from the Judgment read as follows:


33. Thus, it is evident from the plain reading of Section 57 that the Author will have the right to restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, modification or other act in relation to the said work. Section 57 (1)(a) permits him to claim authorship of the work.

34. It is also relevant to note that the combined reading of Sections 33 and 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, will make it clear that the assignment to the IPRS is inclusive of any such right to claim royalty. But the author has the right to claim name credit by invoking author’s right.

35. It is pertinent to note that the Section 33 bars any person or association of persons carrying on the business of issuing or granting licences. In the case on hand, the Plaintiff is not doing the business of issuing or granting licences. He is the author and therefore, his rights are protected under Section 57 of the Act. Hence, Section 33 cannot act as a bar for the Plaintiff to institute the suit.

36. It is the specific contention of the revision petitioner that, the suit is barred under Section 33 (1) and 33(3) of the Copyright Act. The plain reading of Section 33(1) and 33(3) do not show the suit is barred. What is barred is that to carry on issuing or granting licences. It does not bar the individuals like authors from filing any claim. Therefore, it cannot be said that the provisions of the Act bar the filing of the present suit.

37. The second contention is that, the decision of the Apex Court in the case of IPRS Vs. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association and others, referred supra, lays down that, “when a song is composed and lyrics written upon the composer- lyricist being commissioned to do so by a film producer, the author of the composition and lyricist are not entitled to claim any independent licence fee or royalty when sound recording of such song is communicated to the public.”

38. It is pertinent to note that, the Plaintiff when claims name credit, that cannot be deemed to have been barred. Obviously, the said decision of the Apex Court is prior to coming into force of the Amendment to the provisions of the Copyright Act. Therefore, the name credit or the authorship of the Plaintiff cannot be claimed to have been restricted by virtue of the said judgment. What is stated in the judgment of IPRS VS. Eastern Indian Motions Picture Association and others referred supra is that, “when the artistic work is an amalgamation of several independent works, any individual rights cannot be claimed”. Again, this aspect is to be determined on the basis of the evidence that may be led before the Court. Therefore, it cannot be said that each and every musical rendition or recording is hit by the judgment of the Apex Court in the above case.

39. The next contention of the learned counsel for the revision petitioner is that, the impugned order does not consider the fact that 2012 amendment is only clarificatory in nature. In this regard, he relies on the judgment in the case of IPRS Vs. Entertainment Network (India) Limited3, wherein, in para 31, it is stated as below:

“31. The 2012 amendment does not alter the provisions of the Act, on interpretation whereof in the judgments aforesaid it was held that communication to the public of underlying literary and musical works as part of sound recording, under authorisation/licence from owner of the copyright in the sound recording, does not require authorisation/permission from the owner of the copyright in the underlying literary and musical works of the sound recording. Thus when Section 19(10) provides that assignment of copyright in any work to make a sound recording which does not form part of any cinematograph film shall not affect the right of the author of the work to claim equal share of royalties and consideration payable for any utilisation of such work in any form, it cannot mean that utilisation of the work as embodied in the sound recording also entitles the owner of the copyright in such work to demand equal share of royalties and consideration payable for the sound recording. To read the same otherwise would make the other provisions, on interpretation whereof it was held that no authorisation is required to be taken from owners of copyright in underlying works of the sound recording, while communicating the sound recording under authorisation of copyright in sound recording, otiose. Any interpretation which makes another provision of the statute redundant or otiose, is to be avoided and the rule of harmonious construction has to be applied. Thus Section 19(10) has to be read as not affecting the right of the author of the underlying works in sound recording, to claim share in royalty payable for utilisation of such works though identically as in the sound recording but in any other form, as had earlier also been held by the Single Judge in the judgment on interim relief in CS(OS) No.1996/2009. To the said extent, the amendment of the year 2012, is clarificatory. Moreover Section 19(10) provides for sound recordings which do not form part of any cinematograph film. The claim of IPRS in the plaint in both the suits is with respect to sound recordings forming part of cinematograph film. IPRS, in the plaint in CS(OS) No.1996/2009, in para 15 has expressly admitted that in India, film music makes up a major part of music industry and the music companies also source the rights from the film producers and effectively own all rights in the underlying works in the said film music also. I thus conclude that the amendment of the Act of the year 2012, even if were to be applied, does not change the legal position as already enunciated in the judgments aforesaid.”

40. It is evident from the above decision that, Section 19 (10) has to be read, as not affecting the right of the author of the underlying works in sound recording to claim share in royalty payable for utilization of such work though identically as in the sound recording in any other form. It is also relevant to note that the right of the author is not taken away and it is subject to Section 33 and 57 of the Copyright Act. If any right remains, like claiming the name credit, that is not affected by virtue of Section 33 or any other provisions of the Act.

41. The next contention is that, the revision petitioner has already procured licence from third party licensor to utilize sound recording in which Plaintiff’s work is subsumed and therefore, the Plaintiff is barred under law from making any claim for royalty and licence fee in the underlying lyrics and composition. Therefore, he contends that there is no cause of action that subsists in the present case. Again, these claims are to be sorted out only by way of evidence. Whether the rights are subsumed in the licence from the third-party licensors or not in the ‘Art Work’ is a matter to be determined in a suit. At no stretch of imagination, it can be said that the provisions of the Act itself bars the filing of the suit of the present nature. It is also relevant to note that even if we assume that the Plaintiff is barred from claiming any licence fee, royalty or such other monetary reliefs; the claim of the Plaintiff, so far as seeking name credit at the time of the communication to the public is very well maintainable. It is not known what are the terms of the assignment of the rights of the Plaintiff to the IPRS. Obviously, the IPRS is not a party in the present suit. If at all contention is taken up by the defendants that IPRS is also necessary party to the suit, the same is to be considered by the trial Court by way of Preliminary Issue. Therefore, the above contention of the revision petitioner is not sustainable in law.

42. The next contention as stated supra is regarding the valuation of the suit. As stated above, the valuation of the suit cannot be objected since the petitioner has not raised the contention of the valuation of the suits before the trial Court. The valuation is also the mixed question of law and fact. Therefore, if the trial Court comes to the conclusion that the valuation of the suit is not proper, it may direct the Plaintiff to pay the necessary Court fee and then only, it would proceed to pass decree. Therefore, this ground is not available. The valuation of the suit has to be on the bases of the averments of the plaint and nothing else. This view is fortified by the judgment of the Apex Court in the case of Bharat Bhushan Gupta Vs Pratap Narain Varma and another.

43. As noted above, the question whether the suit has to be treated as a Commercial Suit or not is not of much importance. Though it is a fact that under Section 2(c) of the Commercial Courts Act, the intellectual property matters and company disputes are also to be termed as the Commercial disputes, it is clarified by the provisions of Section 12 of the Commercial Courts Act. If at all, the Plaintiff wants to file the suit as a Commercial Suit, then the specified value of the suit has to be mentioned. In the case on hand, the Plaintiff has not claimed that the suit is to be treated as a Commercial Suit. Therefore, defendant No.3/revision petitioner herein cannot force the Plaintiff to incorporate of the specified value in the plaint and then claim that the suit should have been filed before the Commercial Court and on that count, he cannot contend that the suit is not maintainable. If at all the trial Court finds that, it is a commercial dispute, then it is at liberty to return the plaint to file the same in the proper jurisdictional Court. Hence, this Court does not find any merit in the revision.

44. Though the order passed by the trial Court is short and does not address all the points raised by the revision petitioner, no fault can be found in respect of the conclusions reached by the trial Court. Hence, the revision petition is bereft of any merits. For aforesaid reasons, the point raised by this Court is answered in the negative. Hence the following:

ORDER The Civil Revision Petition is dismissed.”

Citation: Saavn Media Ltd vs Sri Hamsalekha, Karnataka High Court, 8th April, 2024, CRP No. 487 of 2023 (IPR)

Authored by Ms. Ashwini Arun, Consulting & Strategy Team, BananaIP Counsels



The case note/s in this blog post have been written by IP Attorneys at BananaIP Counsels based on their review and understanding of the Judgments. It may be noted that other IP attorneys and experts in the field may have different opinions about the cases or arrive at different conclusions therefrom. It is advisable to read the Judgments before making any decisions based on the case notes.

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