Najma Heptulla v. Orient Longman Ltd. And Ors.

Najma Heptulla v. Orient Longman Ltd. And Ors.

AIR 1989 Delhi 63

Brief Facts:

The manuscript of the book ‘India Wins Freedom’ was ready for publication in November, 1957. However, before the book could be published, Maulana Azad, the author of the book, died.


After that, National Archives, New Delhi and National Library, Calcutta agreed to be the trustees of the complete manuscript, including the 30 pages which were not published till the present judgement. It was agreed that seal of the complete manuscript would only be broken after 22nd February, 1988, on the request of Prof. Humayun Kabir, a close associate of Maulana Azad.

On 29th May, 1958 Fatima Begum (grandmother of the Plaintiff) and Nooruddin Ahmed, two legal heirs of Maulana Azad, gave their written consent to the arrangements for the publication of the aforesaid book, excluding the 30 pages.

On 2nd September, 1958 an agreement was entered into between Prof. Kabir and Orient Longman to publish the aforesaid book, excluding the 30 pages, and pay half of the royalty to Indian Council of Cultural Relations and the other half to Fatima Begum and Nooruddin Ahmed equally. It was stated in the agreement that Prof. Kabir was the composer of the book. It was also agreed that the publishers would have the first option to publish the complete book after the seals would be broken on 22nd February, 1988.

A notice dated 13th February, 1988 was issued by the Plaintiff to the National Library and National Archives to inform that she was not desirous to publish the complete book. Later on, the present suit was filed for the rendition of accounts and injunction against the Defendants to restrain them from publishing the complete book.

The Plaintiff (Najma Heptulla), one of the legal heirs of late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, had sought relief against Defendant No. 1 (M/s. Orient Longman Ltd.) with whom an agreement had been entered into by Professor Humayun Kabir, who is claimed by his daughter (Defendant no. 6), to be the real author of the book ‘India Wins Freedom’. Maulana Azad, during his life time, wrote the aforesaid book India Wins Freedom.

Plaintiff’s Contentions:


Maulana Azad, during his life time, wrote the aforesaid book India Wins Freedom.

Plaintiff is a legal representative of Maulana Azad and the copyright in the complete book vests in the legal representatives. It is, therefore, submitted that Prof. Kabir had no authority to enter into the agreement dated 2nd September, 1958 with Orient Longman. Until all the legal representatives of Maulana Azad decide to publish the entire book, the same cannot be made known to the public.

Defendants’ Contentions:

Agreement dated 2nd September, 1958 was valid because Prof. Humayun Kabir was a joint author with Maulana Azad and that he had been duly authorised by the owners of the copyright to execute the agreement dated 2nd September, 1958.


(i) Whether Prof.Kabir is the sole author of the book ‘India Wins Freedom’?

(ii) Whether Prof. Kabir had any authority to execute the agreement dated 2ndSeptember, 1958 with Orient Longman?

Court’s Observations:

(i) No

Rationale of Decision: According to the preface to the said book written by Prof Kabir, Maulana Azad used to describe his experiences in Urdu, on the basis of which a draft in English would be prepared by Prof. Kabir. The intention of the Copyright Act cannot be to give the status of an author only to the person in whose language the literary piece is written while completely ignoring the person who contributed the entire material. Both the subject matter and the language are important. Hence, Maulana Azad and Prof. Kabir are joint authors.

(ii) Yes

Rationale of Decision: As Prof. Kabir was not the sole author of the said book, it was necessary for him to have been authorised by the legal representatives of Maulana Azad to enter into an agreement with Orient Longman. Even though from the document dated 29th May, 1958 alone it is not possible to conclude that all the terms contained in the agreement dated 2nd September, 1958 were expressly ratified by the legal heirs, their conduct of accepting the royalty, payable by Orient Longman, must have led it to believe that the said agreement had their consent. Having enjoyed the fruits of the said agreement for all these years without any demur, the legal representatives of Maulana Azad are estopped from challenging the validity of the said agreement.

Hence, the Defendants were allowed to break the seals of the covers of the complete book ‘India Wins Freedom’ and make its contents known to the public.


Author: Arunima Bishnoi, Delhi Law Faculty

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