Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India and Anr.;
2005 (30) PTC 253 (DEL)
Amar Nath Sehgal, the Plaintiff, was a sculptor of international repute and fame. In 1957, he was approached by the Government of India, to design murals to be installed on the walls of Vigyan Bhavan. Plaintiff accepted the offer and completed the production of his piece of art. The mural was a symbol of India’s cultural heritage and was themed on ‘science of rural and modern India’.
It was installed in the entrance lobby of Vigyan Bhavan in 1962 and stayed installed till 1979 when it was pulled down and kept in a Government store room.
Plaintiff ran from pillar to post to get the mural reinstated. No positive action was taken on Plaintiff’s request. In 1991, Plaintiff received a letter from Ministry of Urban Development towards re-instating his mural but no action was taken after the said letter. Later, in September, 1991 Plaintiff addressed a legal notice to the Defendant, i.e Ministry of Urban Development. However, no action was taken by the Defendant. Therefore, Plaintiff filed the present suit.
Plaintiff asserted that the pulling down and improper handling of the mural caused immense damage to the mural, which resulted in disappearance of the parts of the mural including the name of its creator. As per the Plaintiff, such damage, was prejudicial to his reputation and hence, he prayed for:
i. a declaration of his special rights under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957,
ii. a permanent injunction to restrain the Defendants from further distorting, mutilating or damaging the mural,
iii. damages towards compensation for humiliation, injury, insult and loss of Plaintiff’s reputation, and
iv. decree to direct the Defendants to return the mural to the Plaintiff for restoration at the cost of Defendants.
Arguments on behalf of the Plaintiff:
The Plaintiff contended that over the years, the mural had acquired the status of a national treasure, representing the essential part of Indian art heritage. The destruction of the mural which was done without his permission, consent or authorization of the Plaintiff violated his special rights under Section 57.
Post the amendment made to Section 57 in 1995, the proof of prejudice to the author’s honour or reputation has been made the sine qua non for claiming damages. The Plaintiff pleaded that the mural was the result of Plaintiff’s creative effort. Therefore, the destruction of his work reduced the volume of his creative corpus and this reduction in itself caused prejudice to his reputation.
Arguments on behalf of the Defendants:
It is the owner of the mural and has a right to consign the same to a store room. Moreover, since the Plaintiff had already been paid the price for the work, the ownership of the mural lied with the Defendant.
The mural was removed in the year 1979 and therefore the cause of action arose in 1979. Hence, the suit being filed in 1992, i.e. after 13 years from the date of the offending act, was barred by limitation.
Judgment and Observations made by the Court:
On the issue of limitation, the Court considered the letter written in 1991. The letter established that the Defendants expressed willingness to restore the mural, however, failed to put their commitment into action. As the factual contents of the letter were not refuted, the Court observed that the limitation period would begin from the date of receipt of the letter and therefore, the suit was within limitation.
The next issue before the Court was whether the Plaintiff had any rights in the impugned work under Section 57, even though its copyright was vested in the Defendant.
It was held that when an author creates a work of art or a literary work, it results in the creation of following rights:
a. Paternity Right/ Identification Right/Attribution Right, i.e., his right to have his name on the work of art or literary work;
b. Divulgation Right/ Dissemination Right, i.e., his economic right to sell the work for a valuable consideration;
c. Moral Right of Integrity, i.e., his right to object to such treatment of his work which is derogatory to his reputation; and
d. Right of Retraction, i.e., his right to withdraw his work from publication, if he feels that due to passage of time and changed opinion it is advisable to withdraw the work.
The Court observed that all the above rights, except the dissemination/divulgation right, originate from the fact that the author is the creative individual, who by employment of his power of original genius has created the work, giving rise to a privileged relationship between him and his work. The Court captioned these rights (a, c and d) together as the author’s moral rights and held the same to be vesting in the Plaintiff.
Consequently, it was held that if the treatment of any work is prejudicial to the honour or reputation of it’s author, he is well within his rights to object. The display of distorted version of the original work may lead to the formation of a poor impression of the author in the eyes of the viewer.
The Court also acknowledged the contribution of the authors of work of art or literary works to the national culture. By linking the right of authorship of an author with the cultural development of the country, emphasis was laid on the symbiosis of author’s right of integrity with the overall integrity of the nation.
It was observed that there is a reason why intellectual properties go into the public domain after a lapse of time. The reason is that they increase the wealth of a nation’s knowledge. However, if they are allowed to be destructed or distorted, it would result not only in the violation of the author’s moral rights, but also cause severe damage to public interest by hampering cultural knowledge associated with the work.
As to the issue of delivery-up, the Court upheld the Plaintiff’s contentions that the right to recreate the work lies with him, and therefore, he has a right to get the mural back and be compensated for the loss of reputation due to the mutilation. Defendants were directed to return the mural in 2 weeks’ time to the Plaintiff. Damages of Rs. 5 lakhs were awarded to the Plaintiff towards the loss to his reputation.
Author: Aadhya, National Law University, Odisha