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Raj Rewal v. Union of India & Ors.

Raj Rewal v. Union of India & Ors.

CS (Comm) No. 3 of 2018 before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi at New Delhi

Date of Decision: 28th May, 2019

Facts of the case:

Raj Rewal, the Plaintiff, being an internationally acclaimed architect, designed Hall of Nations and Hall of Industries which was constructed in the year 1972 for the purpose of promoting commercial activities.  Later in 2016, the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) recommended to demolish the Hall of Nations complex in order to build an ‘Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre’. Prior to a few futile interventions by the Plaintiff before administrative and judicial bodies, the complex was destroyed. Subsequently, the Plaintiff filed a suit against ITPO and Union of India for demolition of Hall of Nations under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, seeking mandatory injunction against the Defendants to compensate the Plaintiff by recreating the work of architecture in Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion at the same location or at any other location in Delhi which is equally prominent as the earlier location of the said buildings, under his direct supervision.


Image: From here

Issues raised:

  1. Whether an Architect, as an author of artistic work of architecture in the form of building or structure having an artistic character or design and having a copyright therein, has the right to retrain the owner from demolishing or modifying the building or structure and demand compensation (if the building is already demolished) by reconstruction of a building in accordance with the architectural drawings or plans by reference to which the building or structure was originally constructed.
  2. Whether laws relating to artistic work of architecture and the copyright therein, expressed on land belonging to another, can be interpreted without regard to laws relating to land.

Plaintiff’s Contention:

Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 protects author’s right of paternity and makes distortion, mutilation or modification of the author’s work actionable if it is prejudicial to the author’s reputation or honor. Demolition of the building/structure had derogated the Plaintiff’s ‘special rights’ or moral rights under Section 57.

In case of Amar Nath Sehgal vs. Union of India; 117 (2005) DLT 717 it was held that the copyright law in India is at par with the Berne convention and Section 57 protects the author’s right of paternity and integrity. It also protects the author’s right against distortion, mutilation or modification, if it is established that such distortion, mutilation or modification is prejudicial to the author’s reputation or honour.

Architect is the owner of the design of the building and the owner of the building cannot reproduce the plans or repeat the design in a new building without the architect’s express or implied consent as was held in Meikle Vs. Maufe; [1941] 3 All ER 144

Defendants’ contention:

Section 57 only authorizes a restraint against damage, distortion, mutilation or modification of the work and does not permit the author to seek injunction for recreation of the work.

Section 57(b) of the Copyright Act confers rights only in respect of distortion, mutilation or modification of the work and is not concerned with the total destruction of the work when the work ceases to exist and is not visible. Section 57 is for enabling the architect to either restrain modification or distortion of the work so as to take away the artistic elements thereof and when the work is not in public view, the question of affecting the rights of the author does not arise.

Court’s observations:

The conflict is between two separate rights – the author/architect’s rights under Section 57, and the property or landowner’s rights to their property. The Plaintiff’s right was purely a statutory right embodied under Copyright Act while right to land/property is a Constitutional Right under Article 300A, which must prevail over statutory rights.

Copyright is not a positive right but an exclusionary right, i.e., right to prevent others from doing certain things. Section 16 of the Copyright Act provides that no person shall be entitled to copyright or similar right whether published or otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of the act. In consonance with Section 16 of the Copyright Act, the owner cannot be excluded in the garb of copyright unless a right to exclude/prevent the owner of the land from using the land on which the architecture is built is expressly provided. The owner of the land ordinarily would be entitled to use or develop the land for any purpose, unless certain regulation in a Statute or Statutory Rules exists. And the regulations contained in such a statute must be interested in minimizing the interference with the right of property of the owner of such land.

The right conferred upon the author is to claim authorship or to claim relief with respect to distortion, mutilation or modification in relation to such work if such distortion, mutilation or modification would be prejudicial to author’s honor and reputation. The work should not be rendered imperfect, affecting the honor and reputation of the architect. The destruction of work in its entirety cannot be prejudicial to the honor or reputation of the author as no imperfections can be seen, heard or felt in the present case. In the present case, the building ceased to exist to affect the honor or reputation of the author of the architecture. Therefore, the rights of the architect are limited to the modifications made to the building and asserting that the architect is the author of the modified building.

Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 which provides for “Certain acts not to be infringement of copyright” in sub-section (1)(x) lists “the reconstruction of a building or a structure in accordance with the architectural drawings or plans by reference to which the building or structure was originally constructed”. The ‘reconstruction’ circumscribed under Section 52(1)(x) could only occur if the building or structure had been previously demolished. Therefore, the special rights of an author of an architectural work under Section 57 cannot be interpreted as being a restriction to destruction of building. The owner of the property/land cannot be restrained from demolishing the work and making a new building in its place.

Requirements of urban planning outweigh the moral rights of an architect. Similarly in the present case, the functionality of the building has to necessarily outweigh the interest of the architect on the preservation of integrity. Thus, the owner of the building has the full power to dispose it off and destroy it.

Plaintiff as an architect of the building/structure does not have any right under Section 57 of the Copyright Act to object the demolition of work or to claim any damages for such demolition. Further, in the absence of any right, the Plaintiff has no cause of action for the suit.

The suit was dismissed.

Author: Shreya Somani, NALSAR Hyderabad

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