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More or less, music has become an integral part of everyone’s lives in the current times. Not only is it one of the significant forms of entertainment, but people has also started utilizing music as a form of self-expression. As society is progressing, so are the trends in music. Musicians have been taking inspiration from previous works to bring something unique and innovative to the table. “Remixes” also proves to be a testament to a transformed state of music. The saying, “Good artists borrow; great artists steal,” implies that you should be able to make people believe that the work done was originally yours despite the source of inspiration. However, stealing someone’s work, no matter how beautifully portrayed, might quickly land you a hefty copyright infringement suit in today’s time. Although, such might not be the case in the Indian music industry just yet.


The legal rights possessed by the owner of intellectual properties are referred to as “copyright.” It protects the expression of authors in original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works; as well as cinematograph films and sound recordings. “Musical work” defined under section 2(p) of the Copyrights Act 1957[1] includes music and its graphical notation. However, it is not inclusive of words or actions to be sung, spoken, or performed with music. On the face of it, a musical work might seem to have just one Copyright; however, all pieces of recorded music enclose various aspects, such as:

  • Compositional Copyright – Held by the lyricist, songwriters, composers, etc. it protects the specific arrangement of the melodies or chords and such of any song
  • Master copyright – Held by either the performers or their companies, i.e., label, protects the unique sound recording produced by the artist using the musical composition.

Needless to say, for a musical work to be copyrighted, it has to be in a tangible form.


Copyright owners are also granted certain exclusive rights under Section 14(a)[2] of the Copyrights Act 1957, including:

  • Right to reproduce the work;
  • Right to make translations and adaptations of the original work;
  • Right of issue copies to the public;
  • Right to communicate with the public, and so on

Section 14(e) of the Act[3] further talks about the rights held by any individual creating or owning a sound recording, which is as follows:

  • Right to create any sound recording which encapsulates the original one;
  • Right to sell any copy of the sound recording, or give it on rent, or offer it for sale or hire; and
  • Right to communicate the work to the public.

On top of these, the Act also bestows a copyright owner with moral rights provided under Section 57, i.e., “author’s special rights.”[4] Section 30 states that through a license, the copyright owner may grant any interest in the rights for his work to another person[5]. Section 31C, added by way of the 2012 Amendment, allows anyone willing to make a “cover version” of the original music to get a statutory license[6]. In addition to this, Section 38, as per the Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012, identifies the rights of any performer[7]. It stipulates that the work of any performer cannot be reproduced or published without their permission; for a period of 50 years from the beginning of the calendar year of the following year since they made the performance. In conclusion, it is evident that the copyright owner of the original work holds total authority over it as well over the newly created rights if any. Furthermore, the owner also reserves the right to share or assign the work’s Copyright to other individuals. An engaging provision laid down under Section 57(1)(j) of the Act provides that performance of musical work made in the course of educational institutions with only the staff, students, and their parents or guardians shall not count as copyright infringement.[8]


Determining ownership of any work under Copyright can be challenging to deal with, especially when it comes to the music industry. The line showing the distinction between seemingly similar works is becoming more vague and unclear in the said industry. With the significant amount of content present online pertaining to music, figuring out who owns what is proving to be an arduous task. It is imperative to note that with such immense quantities of music available, one might end up using one or the other element of a work already created. What’s more, we are presently in what one might call “the era of remixes.” It is evident that the practice of remaking songs is currently on an all-time high and only keeps increasing. While the Copyright Act provides provisions for the cover songs, whether these provisions extend up to remixes is ambiguous.  Music labels and record companies have been exploiting musicians for years now. They are making heavy sums of money by releasing the music individually or incorporating it into a film while depriving the artists of the same.

A classic example of the artists’ exploitation by a record label is the release of the song ‘Masakali 2.0’. The original song ‘Masakali’ was created by composer A.R. Rahman and lyricist Mr. Prashoon Joshi, with the record company T-Series. T-Series released the song’s second version without the artist’s consent, i.e., the original creators raising questions about the extent of the rights of record companies. The song ‘Masakali 2.0’ proves to be a threat to the very basis of the Copyright, i.e., to maintain originality. Under this example, one can observe the infringement of almost every right granted to the original creator, whether it be Section 13(1) (a)[9], Section 38[10], Section 17[11], etc. 


Despite its unprecedented expansion, the exploitation of artists or original creators is still rampant in the music industry. It is imperative to note that several of these cases are not even being filed despite the gross infringement of the artist’s right, which is a matter of concern. The reasons for any record label to freely infringe upon these artists’ rights need to be addressed with even more depth. Moreover, there is an urgent need for stricter regulations to preserve the original creator’s rights while allowing for innovation and creativity by adequately protecting adaptations.

Author(s) Name: Nidhi Khatiyan (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies)


[1] Copyright Act, 1957, s 2(p)

[2] Copyright Act, 1957, s 14(a)

[3] Copyright Act, 1957, s 14(e)

[4] Copyright Act, 1957, s 57

[5] Copyright Act, 1957, s 30

[6] Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012, s 31C

[7] Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012, s 38

[8] Copyright Act, 1957, s 57(1) (j)

[9] Copyright Act, 1957, s 13(1) (a)

[10] Copyright Act, 1957, s 38

[11] Copyright Act, 1957, s 17