What are authors’ special rights under the Copyright Act?

Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 grants certain special rights to the authors referred to as authors’ special rights. These rights inter alia include the right to claim authorship of the work and to restrain or claim damages for any distortion, mutilation, or modification of his work in a manner prejudicial to his reputation. These rights are also called the author's moral rights and are based on Article 6bis of the Berne Convention.

Copyright gives the exclusive right to the owner/ author of the work to restrain others from copying his/her original works. The Copyright Act protects the moral and economic rights of the author as well as the owner. Moral rights are inter alia referred to as the author's special rights and are inalienable.

India, a signatory to the Berne Convention, has incorporated Article 6bis of the convention in Section 57 of the Act. This section enumerates the moral rights/special rights of the author. 

Special Rights of the Author under the Copyright Act

Section 57 of the Act states that the author has the following rights, in addition to the economic rights granted to the author: 

1. The right to claim authorship of work (also known as the ‘Paternity Right’ under Article 6b is of the Convention); and 
2. The right to restrain, or claim damages in case of distortion, mutilation, modification, or other act about the said work which is done before the expiration of the term of copyright if such distortion, mutilation, modification, or other act would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation (known as the ‘Integrity Right’ under Article 6bis of the Convention).

These rights are available to the author even after assignment or transfer (in whole or part) of the copyright.

The need for granting such rights was recognized in the case of Amar Nath Seghal vs. Union of India (2005 (30) PTC 253 (Del)). In this case, a huge mural was displaced from its original location without the author's permission. Delhi High Court, while granting a permanent injunction and damages. Rs 50,00,000 (Rupees Fifty Lakhs) to the author held that “When an author creates a work of art or a literary work, it is possible to conceive of many rights which may flow. The first and foremost right which comes to one's mind is the “Paternity Right” in work, i.e., the right to have his name on the work”. There can be no purity without integrity. It may be a matter of opinion, but certainly, treatment of a work that is derogatory to the author's reputation or in some way degrades the work as conceived by the author can be objected to by the author. This would be the moral right of “integrity”.

Can these special rights/moral rights be waived?

In India, there is no concrete jurisprudence regarding waiving of copyright law, but in the case of Sartaj Singh Pannu vs. Gurbani Media Pvt. Ltd. & Another (220 (2015) DLT 527), the Court held that “As long as the waiver is voluntary, it cannot be said to be opposed to public policy.”. On the contrary, moral rights are treated as fundamental rights of the author as they are not merely for the benefit of the individual but for the benefit of the general public, as a matter of public policy. These two varying views portray subjective difficulty concerning waivers of moral rights.

The special rights of the author are perpetual. However, very few authors know such rights, seldom enforced. Special rights offer adequate protection to the authors, even after transfer or assignment, to safeguard his/her work. 


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