A Perceptive Study of Indian Jurisprudence on the Religious Susceptibility Clause of Trademarks Law

Religion, since time immemorial, has influenced Indian law and society on a political, cultural, and economic level. The country’s rich religious and cultural history has, over the years, been both revered and celebrated around the world.

Our architecture, holy books, epics, symbols, and homonyms all reflect the country’s diverse and rich heritage that encompasses religion. The Indian Constitution further complements this heritage by vesting its citizens with the right to freely profess, practise, and propagate their religion under Articles 25-28,[1] subject to reasonable restrictions.

It is safe to say that religion is deeply intrinsic to Indian society, and inevitably, it has seeped through every facet of the Indian lifestyle, including trade and commerce. Religion, in India, is a sensitive subject, and the use of names of Gods and Goddesses, religious writings, figurines, and scriptures is subject to certain reasonable restrictions under the Indian Constitution as well as other domestic laws, including the trademark law.

Hence, while not entirely forbidden, the proliferation of hypersensitivity with respect to religion and religious scriptures and symbols dictates the jurisprudence around the usage of such marks under the Indian trademark law.

Trademark Law and the Bar of Religion

The use of religious symbols and figurines in commerce and business to draw clients has, over the year, proven to be an effective strategy to encourage growth, considering individuals place a high value on religious symbols and have a solid emotional and spiritual tie to items affiliated with their faith. Such usage, however, is also characterised by the nature of goods and services and the morality or immorality tag duly attached to said goods and services in contemporary society.

Section 9 of the Trademarks Act, 1999 stipulates Absolute Grounds for Refusal of Registration of a trademark.[2] Consequently, Section 9(2)(b)[3] specifically places certain restrictions on the registration of marks that are likely to hurt or insult the religious sensibilities of any class or section of society.

Additionally, the Manual of Trade Marks, Practice and Procedure by the Central Government,[4] in consonance with the provision as has been prescribed under Section 23(1) of the Trademarks Act, 1999,[5] further enumerates a list of notified prohibited trademarks which includes, interalia:

  • Words “Lord Buddha”, “Shree Sai Baba”, “Sri Ramkrishna”, “Swami Vivekananda”, “the Holy Mother alias Sri Sarada Devi”, “Balaji” or their devices and the Emblems of the Ramkrishna Math and Mission or colourable imitation thereof; or
  • Names and pictures of Sikh Gurus, viz. Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Raj, Guru Harkrishnan, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Govind Singh;
  • Name and picture of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj;
  • Name and/or picture of the deity of Lord Venkateswara and/or Balaji.

Indian Jurisprudence and the Contours of Religious Susceptibility

The use of names of Gods or Goddesses, religious symbols or figurines per se is not prohibited under the provisions of the Trademarks Act, 1999.[6] In Vishnu Cement v. B.S. Cement Private Ltd.,[7] for instance, the word “VISHNU” was granted registration in the absence of any device of Lord Vishnu, associated with the word mark, by associating the word mark with a personal name, and not a religious sentiment. Again, in Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works v. District Judge,[8] a relatively liberal approach was taken by the Allahabad High Court in allowing the proprietor to use the trademark ‘GANESHA’ on beedi packets.

However, such usage in relation to certain goods or services may offend the religious sentiments of certain sections of society. In these situations, such marks would fall within the ambit of marks not eligible for registration. For instance, a trademark carrying the name and image of Goddess Meenakshi regarding fertilisers and manure was revoked under the erstwhile 1958 Act.[9] Similarly, in Amritpal Singh v. Lal Babu Priyadarshi[10] the mark RAMAYANA was found incapable of registration. The case acted as the first instance of a blanket restriction being imposed on the registration of the name of a religious book by interpreting the provisions under Section 9(2)(b) of the Trademarks Act, 1999, stricto sensu.

Interestingly, in all these cases, the courts have cited the need to prevent the monopolisation of names of gods and religious symbols and figurines, adding that these words lack enough distinctiveness and merely qualify as common words, which should not be allowed for registration. The Bombay High Court recently refused registration to the word “LAXMI,” citing the aforementioned, on the grounds that it was a common name and thus lacked any distinctiveness to merit registration.[11]   

It is pertinent to note from the aforesaid that the courts have refrained from defining strictly measurable thresholds when it comes to dealing with marks that might have a religious connotation, which is fair and understandable to an extent, considering the sensitive nature of such cases. However, the lack of consistency in the reasoning cited behind these decisions has raised some eyebrows, and the conflicting decisions have left much to be desired.

More recently, the Kerela High Court granted the Attukal Bhagawathy Temple Trust the registration of the “picture of Attukal Deity” and the title “Sabarimala of Women” under Class 42 – a residuary clause (for temple services, social services, welfare services, and cultural activities), citing the need to “prevent unauthorised use of the deity’s picture and title.”[12] The case stands as one of a kind, where a temple trust has been granted registration for carrying out services corresponding to the temple and in the name of a particular religion and goddess, thereby risking the exclusion of an entire sect of devotees from using the picture and title of their beloved deity.

While the grant of such a registration might be in contravention of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, the decision also sets out a dangerous precedent, risking the monopolisation and commercialisation of services and other activities carried out in the name of faith, which is in stark contrast to the general position portrayed under the Trademarks Act, 1999, and the spirit of secularism as a whole.



While the intention behind the courts not defining a straight-jacket formula while dealing with marks that might have a religious connotation is laudable, considering the sensitive nature of such cases, the inconsistency behind the reasoning cited in some of these cases leaves a lot to be desired.

The use of names of Gods, Goddesses, religious writings, figurines, and scriptures is generally publici juris,[13] and registration of the aforesaid should be allowed only in exceptional cases where the prima facie evidence in favour of the usage by the proprietor is so strong in the public mind that the mark could be deemed to have garnered secondary distinctiveness, to the exclusion of all other parties, bar the proprietor.

No doubt, commercial interest forms the cornerstone of business in the contemporary world, but it’s important to remember that religion and business often don’t go hand in hand, and such commercial interest shouldn’t come at the cost of compromising the religious sentiments of the masses.


[1] India Const. Arts. 25-28.

[2] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 9.

[3] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 9(2)(b).

[4] Manual of Trade Marks, Practice and Procedure by the Central Government, accessible at:  https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOGuidelinesManuals/1_32_1_tmr-draft-manual.pdf.

[5] The Trade Marks Act, No. 47 of 1999. India Code, § 23(1).

[6] S.P. Chengalvaraya Naidu v. Jagannath, (1994) 1 SCC 1 (India). See also, Registrar of Trade Marks v. Ashok Chandra Rakhit Ltd., AIR 1955 SC 555 (India).

[7] Vishnu Cement v. B.S. Cement Private Ltd., 1998 (18) PTC 130 (India).

[8] Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works v. Union of India, (1974) 4 SCC 43 (India).

[9] Sri Meenakshi Tamil Nadu Appl. 1976 IPLR 144 (India).

[10] Amritpal Singh v. Lal Babu Priyadarshi, (2015) 16 SCC 795 (India).

[11] Freudenberg Gala Household Product Pvt. Ltd. v. GEBI Products, MANU/MH/1859/2017 (India). See also, OM Logistics Ltd. v. Mahendra Pandey, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 757 (India) [Registration for the term ‘OM’, was refused] & Shree Ganesh Besan Mills v. Ganesh Grains Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Cal 3068 (India) [Registration for the term ‘GANESH’, was refused].

[12] Suo motu Proceedings v. Controller General of Patents, Design and Trademarks, 2013 SCC OnLine Ker 24367 (India).

[13] Bhole Baba Milk Food Industries Ltd. v. Parul Food Specialities Pvt. Ltd., CS (OS) No. 107/2010 (India). 

It is safe to say that religion is deeply intrinsic to Indian society, and inevitably, it has seeped through every facet of the Indian lifestyle, including trade and commerce. Religion, in India, is a sensitive subject, and the use of names of Gods and Goddesses, religious writings, figurines, and scriptures is subject to certain reasonable restrictions under the Indian Constitution as well as other domestic laws, including the trademark law.


Art Meets Law: The Uneasy Tussle of Street Art and Intellectual Property Law

Art-making in public spaces is a 2000-year-old tradition in India. The oldest evidence of painting in communal places can be traced to the Buddhist cave paintings in Ajanta, Maharashtra. The mode of expression and manifestation of these art forms has been unique. For example, folk art on the exterior walls of homes, hand-painted Bollywood posters on walls, truck art, slogans, and many more. Street art is a combination of all of these. Street art is a broad term that encompasses spray painting graffiti, political graffiti murals, (un)sanctioned wall art, and other art forms. Despite concurrent pronouncements on the legal status of graffiti and other art forms, several concerns have arisen about their commercial use and protection under Intellectual Property law.

The medium of expression for a street artist is more often someone else’s property without the permission or knowledge of the owner. In its most unadulterated form, street art opposes authority and the law. On either private or public property, it is usually art made without permission and in violation of the law. Street art embraces metropolitan walls and streets, gifting the public with innovative visual imagery that becomes a part of the city as much as the wall it rests on. Perhaps one of the most rapidly expanding artistic movements is graffiti. Though India has not been much into this, the new era is for something different.

There has been a gradual increase in the number of street artists in India, namely, Yantra and Leena Kejriwal, and internationally there is Banksy and Manu Invisible. Graffiti art has evolved over the past several years from being disregarded as a nuisance and equated with vandalism. Even after the many surrounding conjectures, it has been gauged to be a legitimate form of art and a sought-after commodity among art collectors and enthusiasts. Since graffiti is on the verge of becoming the next big art market, it is grappling with questions of intellectual property protection on creation, unauthorised copying, and destruction.


Copyright in Street Art


In all its forms, street art has recently gained enormous popularity and is typically not seen as a nuisance to the property. It has instead developed into a highly marketable commodity throughout the world. To clarify a few supplementary terms, “street art” is an umbrella term for artwork produced in a public area.[1] On the other hand, graffiti describes the application of spray paint to surfaces to produce images or different designs. Despite being used in many commercial endeavours, such as fashion brands and advertising campaigns, the law has not recognised it as art. So, the question remains whether it may be extended to copyright protection.

For a work to be qualified for copyright protection, it must be original, reduced to material form, and showcase creativity. Graffiti meets these criteria since it is artistic and fixed in a physical medium of expression. Technically, copyright exists as soon as it is created, so there shouldn’t be any formal requirement for the aforementioned conditions to be met. Other exclusive rights are solely available to the author of the work. For instance, they can publish or authorise the publication of their work, reproduce or authorise the replication of their work, and include or authorise the inclusion of their work in a cinematographic film or T.V. broadcast.

In the Indian scenario, any street art will fall under section 2(y) of the Copyright Act, 1957 (“Act”). Furthermore, as per section 2(c) of the Act, these street arts will also fall under the purview of artistic work. As stated above, copyright protection to subsist in work primarily needs to be original. There is no definition of “original” in the Act, but in the trade, it is assumed that an idea cannot be copyrighted until it has been expressed and is unique in its truest sense. The courts have tried to ascertain originality through various judgements, the most important being University of London Press Ltd. v. Tutorial Press Ltd.[2] In this case, the Court relied on the ‘Sweat of the Brow’ doctrine and observed that the work need not be original in a revolutionary way. However, it should not be of a trivial nature either. Certain efforts must be made to ascertain whether it is original. Further, the “Modicum of Creativity” test stipulates that the work must involve minimal originality to be authentic and copyrightable.

It has often been observed that street art is often plagiarised without permission, taking advantage of the loophole, i.e., the lack of clarity in the law that extends to the protection of such work. It is imperative to understand that whatever the medium, the artist employs skill and labour. The art depicts artistic value and creativity, with the medium typically being a fixed, tangible building surface. Thus, street art should fall under the protection of copyright law.


Street Art- Neither Illegal nor Immoral


Copyright has two conditions, as indicated above: the work must be unique and created on a specific tangible medium. However, there is a significant flaw because the rules do not address the type of artistic production that may be immoral or in conflict with the law. This raises the question of what would happen if someone stole a pen and drew a captivating portrait on paper or stole a camera and took a stunning photo. The apparent query is whether A and B can both request copyright protection. But the fundamental question is: given that their work is the result of theft, should such stolen works be entitled to protection? In theory, the response should be affirmative. Yes, the portrait and the image should be covered by copyright protection.

Although, in reality, graffiti art is inherently in conflict with the law, through a particular style or identifying tags, the creator of that artwork is easily identifiable. The Copyright Act of 1957 does not specify any requirements relating to the substance of a work other than originality for copyright to exist in the work. Graffiti is a stationary original artistic work of authorship that should be eligible for protection under “painting, graphic, drawing, and sculptural works”, according to a straightforward interpretation of sections 2(y) and 13 taken together. The Trade Marks Act of 1999 and the Patents Act of 1970, which forbid the protection of marks or inventions based on standards like obscenity and morality, contrast this. Therefore, it is abundantly evident what the legislative objective was, and the denial of copyright protection for illegal works was not intended.

There have been theories that graffiti should be excluded from copyright protection because they stand on the fact that the law should not impede social justice and that these artworks are immoral. Contrarily, the author holds that what is immoral does not necessarily mean it is illegal. Graffiti always depicts an idea or message that is legal and should not in any way be considered criminal. It is pertinent to notice the intent behind such an artwork and how it proves instrumental in benefiting society.


Protection from (Mis)Appropriation


The graffiti movement in India is in a very nascent stage and has not seen many judicial precedents. There have been instances where artwork has been done on the wall of a property, or original artwork has been appropriated, but these cases have not come up for adjudication by the courts. We shall understand appropriation art through the same case-moot points of copyright protection.

Let’s say that X noticed some graffiti on the side of a building and decided to take it as his own. The graffiti artist Y accuses X of violating his copyright. In Court, X asserts that Y violated property law and tort law by defacing the property, causing vandalism, and engaging in trespass while creating the unauthorised art. However, X will be a violator if the Court decides that the graffiti work was copyrighted. It is the doctrine of equitable defence. The party to a litigation who has acted reasonably and honestly can avail itself of defence in equity. And the person guilty of violating or infringing on someone’s right cannot be supported by it. In Tekla Corporations & Anr v. Survo Ghosh & Anr,[3] the Court considered whether an equitable defence is available to a copyright infringer. X, who violated Y’s right, may claim there was a violation. However, Y is not entitled to act against him because Y defaced the property wall and violated another law. The Delhi High Court decided in the negative. Therefore, the defence of unclean hands would fail if the graffiti is found copyrightable and the defendant is observed to be infringing the copyright.

The incentive-based theory is recognised as the primary defence of copyright by the Indian I.P. regime. The Indian Copyright Law’s immediate result is to ensure a just reward for the author’s labour. Still, its goal is to foster artistic creativity for the benefit of all people by providing this incentive. For instance, the United States Supreme Court stated that copyright’s monopoly privileges are “intended to encourage the creative work of authors as well as inventors by the provision of a special reward” in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. According to the incentive-based argument, authors will stop producing new works if free riders are permitted to appropriate others’ works. Copyright protection is required, as it relates to the graffiti movement, to motivate artists to produce more graffiti without the free-riders.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently affirmed this claim in the case of Castillo v. G&M Realty L.P., noting that street art has developed into much more than spray-painted tags and quickly disappearing bits adorned by rebellious urbanites, which is entitled to copyright protection.


Though the street artwork movement in India is at a snail’s pace, we must follow the covenants of international treaties to answer any dissecting viewpoints. The purpose of copyright should be the promotion of art, the free flow of creativity, and, consequently, the progress of society. These principles are primarily upheld by the Berne Convention and the TRIPS Agreement. It mandates that copyright protection be established upon the creation of the work with no need for formalities (such as registration), thus excluding any room for scrutiny of the work and/or evaluation of whether its content or creation process deserves copyright protection. Moreover, the Guide to the Berne Convention states that the work’s value, merit, or purpose is irrelevant to the enjoyment and exercise of copyright and emphasises the all-embracing copyright protection of all works, regardless of the manner or form of their expression.

It is crucial to understand that, even though it is not explicitly stated, the jurisprudence surrounding copyright is largely based on the theory of personality rights, which includes the author’s moral rights as stated in the Berne Convention as well as acknowledged by Indian copyright law. Since India is a signatory, if a case of similar stature arises, these treaties’ reasoning and analytical viewpoint will serve well in the Indian copyright context.


[1] Graffiti: At The Edge Of Copyright By Jonathan Bailey March 15, 2018 https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2018/03/15/graffiti-at-the-edge-of-copyright/

[2] [1916] 2 Ch. 601

[3] CS(OS) 2414/2011

Image Credits: Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

Though the street artwork movement in India is at a snail’s pace, we must follow the covenants of international treaties to answer any dissecting viewpoints. The purpose of copyright should be the promotion of art, the free flow of creativity, and, consequently, the progress of society. These principles are primarily upheld by the Berne Convention and the TRIPS Agreement. It mandates that copyright protection be established upon the creation of the work with no need for formalities (such as registration), thus excluding any room for scrutiny of the work and/or evaluation of whether its content or creation process deserves copyright protection.


Gems vs James Bond: Delhi High Court Rules in Favour of Cadbury

In a long-pending case of trademark infringement dispute between Mondelez Indian Foods Pvt. Ltd, formerly Cadbury India Limited (Plaintiff) and Neeraj Food Products (Defendants), the Delhi High Court issued a permanent and mandatory injunction against the Defendant for trading “James Bond”- a chocolate product which bore deceptive similarity to Cadbury’s trademark “Gems”. The Court also imposed a fine of INR 15 Lakhs on the defendant for the copyright infringement.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2005 against the defendant, the sole proprietorship of Mr. Charan Das. Plaintiff 1– Cadbury India Ltd. and Plaintiff 2– Cadbury Schweppes Overseas Limited claimed ownership of the mark ‘CADBURY GEMS’ or ‘GEMS’. The Plaintiffs claim that the defendant launched a chocolate product under the name ‘JAMES BOND’ with the identical colour scheme, layout, and arrangement as the ‘CADBURY GEMS’ or ‘GEMS’ products.

Further, the Plaintiffs also claimed that the product “James Bond” also stood in infringement of the copyright and trademark registration, under its former name, Hindustan Cocoa Products Ltd., bearing registration numbers A-50680/90 and A-49975/89 in respect to a character referred to as “Gems Bond”, often used in various marketing campaigns of their product.

                                           Figure: Packaging of Cadbury Gems and James Bond[1]

Hence, the lawsuit sought a permanent and mandatory injunction and damages for trademark and copyright infringement, passing off, unfair competition and other relief.

The Court observed that the packaging of the Plaintiffs’ ‘GEMS’ product is very unique, with illustrations of colourful button chocolates on a blue/purple base with the mark ‘GEMS’ depicted in a number of colours and a splash in the middle, which is very well known to the young and the old alike.

Numerous “GEMS” advertisements feature the phrase “GEMS BOND,” and some examples have also been made public. The defendant’s packaging features colourful button chocolates and the mark “JAMES BOND”/”JAMEY BOND” with the same blue/purple foundation. The trademark “GEMS” appears on a brown background on both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s products. The label and packaging for the Plaintiffs’ product share the same colour palette as the Defendant’s product. Additionally, the marks are misleadingly and confusingly similar. Therefore, the court categorised the situation as an instance of res ipsa loquitur.

The Court referred to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Corn Products Refining Co. v. Shangrila Food Products Ltd., (1960) 1 SCR 968 and Parle Products (P) Ltd. v. J.P. & Co., Mysore, in which the contention of the test of infringement and deceptive similarity of competing marks (1972) 1 SCC 618 was settled, wherein it was observed that “the overall structural and phonetic similarity and the similarity of the idea in the two marks is reasonably likely to cause a confusion between them and the Court has to see the similarities and not the dissimilarities.”

The Court also placed reliance on the decision of ITC Ltd. v. Britannia Industries Ltd. 2016 SCC OnLine Del 5004, in which it was observed that “Where the product is eatable like a biscuit, the colour and the colour scheme of the packaging play an important role in the consumer making an initial choice and in enabling a discerning consumer to locate the particular brand of a manufacturer.”

Further, while discussing the concept of ‘initial interest in the same judgment, the Court relied on Baker Hughes Limited v. Hiroo Khushalani, while observing, “In some cases, however, it is also possible that a purchaser, after having been misled into an initial interest in a product manufactured by an imitator, discovers his folly, but this initial interest, being based on confusion and deception, can give rise to a cause of action for the tort of passing off as the purchaser has been made to think that there is some connection or nexus between the products and business of two disparate companies.”

However, that may not be entirely true when it comes to products like biscuits. The packaging of a biscuit does become associated with the manufacturer or brand. The colour of the wrapper would certainly play an important role.

In the present case, the Court opined, inter alia, that the product- ‘GEMS’ is also usually liked and consumed by small children in both urban and rural areas. Therefore, in such a case, the test shall not be limited to that of absolute confusion, but even the likelihood of confusion shall be deemed sufficient. Hence, the product’s layout and the colour combination of the packaging play a vital role when making a purchase. Moreover, chocolates are not merely sold in retail stores or outlets but also at roadside shacks, paan shops, patri vendors, kirana stores and stalls outside schools, etc. Thus, considering that the class of consumers the product is targeted at is children, the likelihood of confusion stands high.

In conclusion, it can be inferred by the Delhi High Court’s decision that the test for the likelihood of confusion stands on several factors, including the product category in dispute and the consumer demographic it appeals to. As observed by the Court, ‘almost everyone’s childhood is associated with Cadbury Gems’; the product was popular amongst many consumers of all ages and across socio-economic backgrounds. Further, the strikingly similar colour scheme of the packets and layouts and the phonetic sounds of the two products were enough to inspire a “likelihood of confusion” at the point of purchase by the consumer, which led the Court to take a firm stand in favour of the Plaintiff.

It can be inferred by the Delhi High Court’s decision that the test for the likelihood of confusion stands on several factors, including the product category in dispute and the consumer demographic it appeals to. As observed by the Court, ‘almost everyone’s childhood is associated with Cadbury Gems’; the product was popular amongst many consumers of all ages and across socio-economic backgrounds.


Marrakesh Treaty: Making Literature Accessible to All

There are over 2.2 billion people blind or visually impaired worldwide, and about 90% of them live in developing or least developed countries. Considering their economic situation and available infrastructure, education and access to the literature are significant issues. Only less than 10% of books published every year are available in a format accessible to them.

Without access to books and magazines, the visually impaired cannot receive the required education or realise their full potential. With a single objective to increase access to books, magazines, and other printed materials for people with print disabilities, the Marrakesh Treaty was adopted by the member states of WIPO in 2013 (the “Treaty”), which also forms part of the body of international copyright treaties administered by WIPO.


How did the Marrakesh Treaty Eventuate?


In 2006, the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights’ Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for the Visually Impaired, led by Judith Sullivan, set the ball rolling for copyright exceptions for the benefit of the visually impaired. This move prompted many states to make exceptions to their copyright law.

Following that, a proposal for the Treaty was first tabled before the WIPO by Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay for the World Blind Union (WBU) during WIPO’s 18th Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) in 2009. The proposed Treaty set forth minimum standards of copyright exceptions and facilitated the cross-border exchange of accessible formats. Consequently, the Forty-Second WIPO General Assembly decided to convene a Diplomatic Conference on limitations and exceptions for visually impaired persons/persons with print disabilities in June 2013.

The Diplomatic Conference to Conclude a Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities, was held from 17th to 28th June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco, which adopted the Treaty on 27th June 2013. The Treaty aligns with the human rights principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

India became the first country to ratify the Treaty on 24th July 2014. The Treaty received 79 signatures in the first twelve months that it was open for signatures, and it entered into force on 30th September 2016 currently with 80 Contracting Parties on board.


Salient Features of the Marrakesh Treaty


Definitions Under the Marrakesh Treaty:

“Works” are defined to mean literary and artistic works within the meaning of Article 2(1) of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

“Beneficiary Persons” is defined as someone affected by one or more in a range of disabilities that interfere with the effective reading of printed material. This definition includes visually impaired persons and those with a physical disability that prevents them from holding and manipulating a book.

The definition of “Accessible format copy” is broad and covers any format that permits a person with a visual impairment or other print disability to access the content as feasibly and comfortably as a person without such a disability, including digital formats. The accessible format copy is used exclusively by beneficiary persons. It must respect the integrity of the original work, taking due consideration the changes needed to make the work accessible in the alternative format and the accessibility needs of the beneficiary persons.

“Authorised entity” is defined as an entity authorized or recognized by the government to provide education, instructional training, etc., to beneficiary persons on a non-profit basis. It also includes a government institution or non-profit organization that provides the same services to beneficiary persons as one of its primary activities or institutional obligations.


Obligations of the Member Countries Under the Marrakesh Treaty:


Article 4 of the Treaty refers to the obligation of the contracting parties to fulfill two primary obligations, i.e.:

  1. Contracting Parties shall provide in their national copyright laws for a limitation or exception to the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, and the right of making available to the public as provided by the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT); and
  2. To facilitate the availability of works in accessible format copies for beneficiary persons.

These limitations and exceptions mean that a range of acts is permitted without infringing copyright.

Article 5 highlights the obligation about the Cross-Border Exchange of Accessible Format Copies. As per this article, all contracting Parties shall have a necessary provision in their Statutes wherein if an accessible format copy is made under a limitation or exception or according to the operation of law, that accessible format copy may be distributed or made available by an authorized entity to a beneficiary person or an authorized entity in another Contracting Party.


Application of the Marrakesh Treaty in India


The Copyright Act (Amendment) Act 2012, which was enacted in India much before the Treaty was adopted, had already incorporated a provision which grants the exception of fair dealing with the reproduction, distribution, and making available of published works in accessible formats for the disabled.


The 2012 Amendment of Fair Dealing Exception


The Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012 provides certain exceptions to copyright infringement as fair dealing under Section 52. The provision permits limited use of copyright material without the owner’s authorization.

The Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012 brought a new provision under Section 52(1) (ZB), which made conversions of work into an accessible format for the exclusive benefit of disabled persons a fair dealing exception to the infringement of copyright. This extends to the adaptation, reproduction, issue of copies, or communication to the public of any work in an accessible format for persons with disabilities, by any person or organisation working for the benefit of the persons with disabilities.

Section [(zb) 52] highlights that the; adaptation, reproduction, issue of copies or communication to the public of any work in an accessible format, by:

(i) any person to facilitate persons with disability to access to works including sharing with any person with disability of such accessible format for private or personal use, educational purpose or research; or

(ii) any organisation working for the benefit of the persons with disabilities in case the standard format prevents the enjoyment of such works by such persons:

Provided that the copies of the works in such accessible format are made available to the persons with disabilities on a non-profit basis but to recover only the cost of production. Provided further, the organization shall ensure that the copies of works in such accessible format are used only by persons with disabilities and take reasonable steps to prevent entry into ordinary business channels.


Recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce


The Parliamentary Standing Committee (“Committee”) constituted under the Dept of Commerce, inter alia, examined the challenges faced in ensuring a balance between copyright protection of the publishers and public access to affordable educational study material in its recent report titled “Report 161: Review of the Intellectual Property Rights Regime in India” presented in the Rajya Sabha on 23rd July 2021.

The Committee observed that the fair use exception is having a detrimental impact on the publishing industry and authors who are mainly dependent on royalties. On the other hand, it also observed that protection of copyrights of publishers and authors which encourages enrichment of quality books and public accessibility of such works at an affordable rate counterbalanced to maintain the overall literary culture and image of the country. Hence, in order to overcome this conflict, the Committee made the following recommendation:

  • Section 52(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957 should be amended to facilitate a fair and equitable ecosystem of literary culture in the country by allowing reprographic works in Government-owned educational institutions and storing it in libraries for their easy access to students as well as stipulating limitations to unrestricted commercial grants to copy books and literary works and storage of copied works in digital formats.
  • Libraries should be upgraded to provide easy access to the works of foreign publishers by the students
  • The earliest implementation of National Mission on Libraries (NML), a Government of India initiative to modernize and digitally link close to 9,000 public libraries across the country works.
  • A comprehensive study of the Berne Convention provisions regarding Protection of Literary and Artistic Works to promote a regime of copyright which will be of advantage to both copyright holders and the public.

Compulsory License to Reproduce Published Work for the Benefit of Disabled for Profit


In addition to the fair dealing exceptions, the Amendment also provides for Compulsory Licensing to any person working for the benefit of the disabled to publish any work on which copyright exists.[1]

Considering the more significant public interest involved in the license proceedings, the Act mandates that Courts shall make necessary endeavors to dispose of such applications within two months from the date of receipt of the application.


Reproduction and Cross-border Exchange of Published Works


In line with the Treaty’s commitment to make accessible format works available to the beneficiaries across the boundaries, WIPO in June 2014 established the Accessible Books Consortium (“Consortium”). This public-private collaboration brings together all the key players, including the organisers, beneficiaries, publishers, and authors. It is a multiparty collaboration that offers books in an accessible format to blind and prints disabled people across the globe.

As of now, the Consortium holds over six lakhs books in accessible formats in over 80 languages in 93 partnered libraries that are available without legal formalities to the beneficiaries and organisations that assist such people. The Treaty also allows unlocking of Digital Rights Management Amazon Kindle (DRM) book, which can then be reproduced in Braille format and made available to the beneficiaries without the prior consent of the copyright holders.

In India, the Consortium initially covered two states, i.e., Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, by providing support of converting books from standard IX to XII in accessible formats and offering reading assistant devices at a subsidised cost.

The India chapter started with the Daisy Forum of India (“DFI”), which in collaboration with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities (NIEPVD), and the Government of India; launched Sugamya Pustakalaya, India’s first and most significant collection of accessible books hosting over 6.75 lakhs in accessible formats across in as many as 17 languages across DFI libraries.

Since then, multiple NGOs, libraries, Online databases, software programmes have been established. Saksham Trust, a Delhi-based NGO working for the exact cause, is another such organisation.[2] Also, various reading softwares have been developed, such as the INDO-NVDA software, making computers accessible for visually impaired people.




While India has one of the most progressive copyright exceptions for the benefit of the disabled globally, it is pertinent to note that India hasn’t fully incorporated provisions of the Treaty in her national law. Provisions related to cross-border availability, privacy, and cooperation remain absent. To achieve the objective of the Treaty, it is pertinent that all Contracting Parties comply with their obligations to foster an accessible environment for the disabled.

Image Credits:

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

While India has one of the most progressive copyright exceptions for the benefit of the disabled globally, it is pertinent to note that India hasn’t fully incorporated provisions of the Treaty in her national law. Provisions related to cross-border availability, privacy, and cooperation remain absent.


Development in Indian Copyrights Law in 2019

With the digital movement coming of age, the scope of copyright protection has expanded in the past year to a notch higher and effective regulations have been launched to deal with the expansion.

Some of the essential legislation and rulings that shaped the Indian Copyrights law in 2019 are stated hereunder:



  1. Copyright (Amendment) Rules 2019

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) vide its press statement dated May 30, 2019 proposed to introduce the Copyright Amendment Rules, 2019[1].  The draft rules aimed at ensuring smooth and flawless compliance of the Copyright Act in the light of technological advancement in the digital era and to bring them in parity with other relevant legislations. They sought to broaden the scope of issuance of statutory licences under section 31-D of the Act for broadcasting work subject to copyright protection by replacing ‘radio and television broadcast’ with ‘each mode of broadcasting’ under rules 29, 30, 31. This amendment came at the backdrop of  Tips Industries Ltd. vs. Wynk Music Ltd. & Anr.[2], where the need to include streaming under the preview of broadcasting was realised under the statutory licensing scheme. The draft also provided for stricter code of conduct for copyright societies and more. 

  1. Cinematograph (Amendment) Act, 2019

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Feb 12, 2019 introduced Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2019[3] which aims to curb film piracy and imposes stricter penalties and punishments in this accord. The scope of unauthorised use of audio-visual recordings has been widened to include unauthorised camcording and transmission thereof. Strict deterrence can be traced in the proposed bill as intense penal provisions are attracted in the case of making and transmitting copies of a cinematograph film or audio-visual recording without acquiring approval from the owner of such work.

Notable Case Laws

Some of the noteworthy copyright cases for the year 2019 would be:

1.      Roger Mathew v. South Indian Bank Limited[4]

The Supreme Court of India struck down the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal, and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017 framed under the Finance Act, 2017 on the ground that it gave excessive and discretionary powers to the government as to the appointment of service persons to the tribunal and it also affected the judicial independence of the Tribunals. The dilution and encroachment on the judicial domain through the appointment of technical and other members, devoid of either adjudicatory experience or legal knowledge, to the IPAB after the merger of Copyright Board and IPAB was a matter of great concern. However, since this development could not be implemented retrospectively, the appointment already made remained unaffected. 

2.      UTV Software Communication Ltd. & Ors. v. 1337X.TO & Ors[5]

The Delhi High Court introduced a dynamic injunction into Indian jurisdiction to curb online piracy. Through this, Plaintiff could get the order executed against mirror/redirect/alphanumeric websites hosting the same infringing content as those already blocked.

  1. Sajeev Pillai v. Venu Kunnapalli & Anr[6]

It was the case of Plaintiff that the storyline of the defendant’s movie titled Mamankam was the result of the extensive research work done by Plaintiff. Plaintiff had assigned his work which included the story, script, screenplay, and dialogue to the defendant. The Kerala High Court held that the author has a legitimate right to claim authorship even after assignment and the later act does not exhaust the moral right of the author within the meaning of section 57(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957. However, since the movie is the distorted version of the plaintiff’s work due to the mutilation and modification of the original script, the court took a balanced view and allowed the movie to be released without crediting anyone as the author thereof till the final disposal of the suit. 

  1. Tips Industries Ltd. vs. Wynk Music Ltd. & Anr[7]

The Hon’ble Bombay High court interpreted section 31D of the Copyright Act, 1957 as an exception to the copyright laws. It is further stated that statutory licensing extends to only radio and television broadcasting and is exclusive of internet broadcasting. Therefore, online streaming services don’t fall within the ambit of statutory licensing. The flaw could, however, be fixed via the new “Copyright Amendment Rules 2019” stated the Hon’ble court. In the instant case, the defendant’s feature to allow its consumers to download music and store the same for unlimited usage amounted to sale thereby not constituting broadcast stated in 31D of the Copyright act. Therefore, the defendant was not required to avail of a statutory license.

  1. Yash Raj Films v. Sri Sai Ganesh Productions[8]

The plaintiff (Yash Raj) instituted a copyright infringement suit against the defendant for the reproduction of the copyrighted work subsisting in the plaintiff’s movie titled “Band Baja Baraat” through a Telugu remake titled “Jabardasth” without taking prior permission of the plaintiff.    

The Hon’ble High court was of the view that “to make a copy of the film‟ did not mean just to make a physical copy of the film by a process of duplication, but it also referred to another film which substantially, fundamentally, essentially, and materially resembled/reproduced the original film. The defendants had blatantly copied the fundamental, essential and distinctive features as well as forms and expression of the plaintiff’s film on purpose and consequently, infringed the plaintiff’s copyright.

  1. Raj Rewal v. Union of India & Ors[9]

The Hon’ble Delhi High court in the instant case dealt with a significant question of copyright law i.e., whether an author’s (architect’s) rights foreshadow the rights of the property owner. It was answered in the negative, i.e. the property owner’s right as per constitutional right under Article 300A shall be held more vital and that he/she can choose to destruct or modify the building on his/her property. Therefore, the Owner’s right shall precede the Author’s right under Sec 57 of the Copyright Act.

  1. Thiagarajan Kumararaja v. M/s Capital Film Works and Anr[10]

The Hon’ble Madras High Court for the first time deliberated a ruling on rights of the producer qua the author of the script with regard to the dubbing of the film and held that the producer of the film has the right to dub the film in any other language provided there isn’t any agreement to the contrary. Under Section 2(d)(v) in relation to a cinematograph film, the producer is the author and since they had taken the initiative and the responsibility for making the work i.e., cinematograph film, they had the right to dub the same. Accordingly, the infringement suit for dubbing the film in another language was dismissed and decided in favour of the producer.



From defending the right of the producer to dub in other languages, to continuance of the moral right of the author even after the assignment of work, it can be said that the year 2019 has been a busy year for the music and film industry. The introduction of the dynamic injunction against rogue websites was a much-needed change for the empowerment of lawful owners of copyrighted work to battle piracy. Further, the online copyright application system has progressively become filer-friendly in the past year[11]. In addition, increased transparency and stakeholder participation has created a protective environment for enhanced copyright preservation.


[1] Available at http://copyright.gov.in/Documents/pdfgazette.pdf

[2] Commercial Suit IP (L) No. 114 of 2018

[3] https://prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Cinematograph%20%28A%29%20Bill%2C%202019.pdf

[4]  Civil Appeal No. 8588 of 2019, SLP No. No.15804 of 2017

[5] CS(COMM) 724/2017

[6] FAO.No.191 OF 2019

[7] Commercial Suit IP (L) No. 114 of 2018

[8] CS (COMM) 1329/2016

[9] CS (Comm) No. 3 of 2018

[10] Original Side Appeal No. 22 of 2017

[11] http://www.ipindia.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOAnnualReport/1_110_1_Annual_Report_2017-18_English.pd

Image Credits: Noor Younis on Unsplash

From defending the right of the producer to dub in other languages, to continuance of the moral right of the author even after the assignment of work, it can be said that the year 2019 has been a busy year for the music and film industry. The introduction of the dynamic injunction against rogue websites was a much-needed change for the empowerment of lawful owners of copyrighted work to battle piracy.