In today’s digital age, where information and creative works flow freely across platforms, understanding the intricacies of assignment and licensing of copyright is more crucial than ever.

Copyright, the legal protection bestowed upon original artistic, literary, and intellectual creations, grants creators exclusive rights to control the distribution, reproduction, and adaptation of their works.

However, creators often navigate a complex landscape when it comes to sharing their creations or permitting others to use them.

This article delves into the fundamental concepts of copyright assignment and licensing, shedding light on the nuanced processes that underpin the transfer and management of creative ownership.

Note: Here in this article, the Indian Act implies the Copyright Act, 1957.

Assignment of Copyright (Section 18): Navigating Ownership Transfer

When it comes to copyright ownership, creators hold the power to assign their rights to another individual.

Such an assignment has significant implications, as the assignee then gains all the rights associated with the copyrighted work.

However, it’s essential to note that simply granting the right to publish and sell the work does not amount to a complete assignment of copyright.

Once the assignee receives certain rights encompassed within the copyright, they are considered the rightful owners of those specific rights.

Meanwhile, the assignor retains ownership of any unassigned rights.

If the assignee passes away before finishing the work, their legal representatives will receive the assignment benefits.

Untangling Copyright Assignments: The Case of Video Master v. Nishi Production

The Bombay High Court was presented with a crucial question in this case: whether the assignment of video rights includes the right to satellite broadcast?

In this case, the defendant put forth a compelling argument, highlighting the existence of diverse communication modes available to the public, including terrestrial television broadcasting (Doordarshan), satellite broadcasting, and video TV.

The court ultimately sided with the defendant, acknowledging that each mode of communication constituted a distinct form of copyright protection.

As such, the owner of a film possessed separate copyright for each communication mode and retained the ability to assign these rights to different individuals.

Consequently, the court concluded that the satellite broadcast copyright of the film was an independent right held by the film’s owner.

Therefore, the copyright assigned to the plaintiff solely covered the video rights and did not include the rights for satellite broadcast.

This case serves as a compelling example, underscoring the intricate nature of copyright assignments.

It highlights the significance of comprehending the specific rights involved in such assignments and the need for meticulous agreements to safeguard the interests of all parties involved.

Decoding the Mode of Copyright Assignment (Section 19)

Section 19 of the Indian Act delves into the intricacies of copyright assignment, outlining crucial guidelines to ensure its validity.

According to this section, an assignment of copyright must fulfill certain requirements to be considered legally binding.

Firstly, it must be in writing and bear the signature of the assignor or their authorised representative.

The assignment document should clearly identify the specific work being assigned and specify the nature of the rights being transferred.

It should also define the duration and territorial scope of the assignment.

Additionally, the document must address the issue of royalty payments, if applicable, detailing the amount payable to the author or their legal heirs throughout the duration of the assignment.

The terms of the assignment can be revised, extended, or terminated by mutual agreement.

In the absence of a stipulated assignment period, the standard duration will commence from the date of the assignment and last for five years.

In the absence of specific information regarding the territorial scope of the assignment, it will be presumed to cover the entire area of India.

Section 19(8) states that the assignment of copyright work in violation of the agreement with a specific copyright society, of which the author is a member, will be invalid.

Sections 19(9) and 19(10) state that assigning a copyright for cinematograph films or sound recordings does not diminish the author’s right to an equal portion of royalties and compensation for the use of their protected work.

Examining Copyright Assignments: Insights from Saregama India Ltd v. Suresh Jindal

This case established that the copyright owner of a future work holds the right to assign its exclusive rights, either in its entirety or partially, to any individual.

This assignment can cover the entire duration of the copyright or only specific portions of it.

Once the assignment is made, the assignee is legally recognised as the owner of the copyright under the provisions of the applicable law.

This ruling highlights the flexibility provided to copyright holders, allowing them to transfer their rights to others, thereby granting the assignee the authority to exercise control over the copyrighted work.

Such assignments enable the assignee to enjoy the benefits and protections offered by the Indian Act and assert their ownership rights.

Related Article: Difference Between Authorship and Ownership in Copyright Law

Section 19a Deals with Resolving Copyright Assignment Disputes.

Section 19(a) addresses the resolution of disputes related to the assignment of copyright.

In the event of a complaint from the assignor, the Appellate Board has the authority to investigate the matter and, if necessary, revoke the assignment.

This action can be taken if the assignee fails to adequately exercise the rights assigned to them, and this failure cannot be attributed to any act or omission on the part of the assignor.

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When a dispute arises regarding the assignment of copyright, the aggrieved party can approach the Appellate Board with a complaint.

The Board will conduct an inquiry and gather the necessary information to make an informed decision.

This inquiry may involve various aspects of the dispute, including the recovery of any outstanding royalties that may be owed.

Assignment by Operation of Law (Section 20): Transferring Ownership upon the Owner’s Death

Section 20 addresses the transfer of copyright ownership through the operation of law when the owner passes away, particularly in cases where no will has been executed.

In such instances, the copyright becomes part of the deceased owner’s estate and is inherited by their personal representative.

Furthermore, Section 20 clarifies that if an individual is entitled to receive copyright through a bequest, and the work in question had not been published before the testator’s death, there are specific considerations.

Unless the testator’s will or any codicil thereto states otherwise, the intended beneficiary is deemed to have copyright in the work to the extent that the testator held copyright immediately prior to their demise.

This provision ensures that the rights to the copyright are appropriately passed on to the rightful recipient, as per the intentions of the deceased copyright owner.

Licensing of Copyright

Licensing plays a vital role in the world of copyright, offering a pathway for creators and owners to grant permission to others for the use of their protected works.

Licensing allows individuals or entities to legally utilise licensed material while respecting the rights and interests of the original creator.

The copyright holder has the authority to issue licenses for any exclusive rights pertaining to their work.

The license has multiple categories.

Voluntary Licensing: Expanding Copyright Opportunities (Section 30)

The author has full ownership of their artistic creation and has the power to issue licenses pertaining to said work.

Section 30 of the Indian Act addresses the voluntary licensing of copyright.

Under this section, the owner has the ability to grant any interest in their copyright to another person through a written license.

This license must be duly signed by the content owner or their authorised representative.

It’s important to note that a license can be granted not only for existing works but also for future works.

In the case of future works, the license takes effect once the work comes into existence.

In the event that a licensee for a future work passes away before the work is realised, their legal representatives are entitled to the benefits of the license, unless otherwise specified.

The process of obtaining a license shares similarities with that of an assignment deed, and may require certain adjustments, as detailed in Section 19 (Section 30A).

Therefore, a license deed should include essential details such as:

  1. Duration of the license
  2. Rights being licensed
  3. Territorial extent of the license
  4. Amount of royalty payable
  5. Terms regarding revision, extension, and termination

By adhering to these particulars, both the owner and the licensee can establish clear and comprehensive agreements, allowing for the authorised use of copyrighted material while safeguarding the interests of all parties involved.

Exploring the Spectrum of Voluntary Copyright Licenses

Here are some common categories of voluntary licenses:

  1. Exclusive License: An exclusive license, as defined in Section 2(j), grants the licensee and those authorised by them the exclusive rights encompassed within the copyrighted work. This exclusivity means that no other individuals or entities can exercise the same rights granted by the license.
  2. Non-Exclusive License: A non-exclusive license does not bestow the right of exclusion. It represents a granting of authority to perform a specific action that would otherwise be considered an infringement. When the owner grants a non-exclusive license, they retain their rights and economic claims on the work while permitting others to utilise it within the parameters specified in the license.
  3. Co-Exclusive License: In a co-exclusive license arrangement, the licensor grants licenses to multiple licensees but limits the group of additional licensees to a specific, defined set. This arrangement ensures that only a select group can obtain licenses for the work, maintaining a sense of exclusivity within that limited scope.
  4. Sole License: A sole license provides exclusive rights to both the licensor and the licensee, excluding any other third party from utilising the licensed work. It establishes a unique arrangement wherein only the licensor and licensee possess the authority to exercise the granted rights.
  5. Implied License: An implied license arises when the author implicitly allows or permits the use of their work. For example, if the author has knowledge of someone using their work but takes no action to prevent it, an implied license can be inferred.

Compulsory License

India, as a member of the Berne Convention, has included the compulsory license provision in the Indian Act.

The Act outlines circumstances under which a compulsory license may be granted for Indian work in the public interest.

Granting Compulsory Licenses for Withheld Works from Public

The Indian Act includes provisions for the issuance of compulsory licenses in cases where a work has been published or performed in public but is being withheld from the public.

This empowers the Appellate Board to direct the Registrar to grant a license upon receiving a written complaint under the Act.

However, certain conditions must be met before the Board exercises its power.

These conditions include approaching the owner of the work for a license and the owner refusing to publish or allow the republication of the work, thereby withholding it from the public.

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In situations where multiple complaints are filed, the license will be granted to the complainant deemed by the Copyright Board to serve the interests of the general public.

Case: Super Cassette Industries Ltd v. Entertainment Network (India) Ltd

This case sheds light on the application of Section 31.

The respondents, operating a radio FM channel known as Radio Mirchi, attempted to obtain a license from Super Cassette Industries Ltd (SCIL) to play their sound recordings but were unsuccessful.

The decision to grant a compulsory license by the Copyright Board was challenged in the Delhi High Court.

During the deliberations, the court observed that if compulsory licenses were to be granted to all, there would be no need for the inquiry outlined in this Section. The court also emphasised that when copyright is in the public interest, refusal to grant a license must be based on reasonable and valid grounds.

The Copyright Board must maintain a balance between private rights and copyright with regard to the public interest when executing an order under the said Section.

Consequently, the case was remanded to the Copyright Board for further examination and reconsideration.

This case highlights the significance of compulsory licensing provisions in addressing situations where works are wrongfully withheld from the public.

It underscores the need for careful evaluation and consideration of the competing interests involved in such decisions.

For Unpublished or Published Works (Section 31-A)

Section 31-A of the Indian Act addresses the circumstances where the author of a work is deceased, unknown, untraceable, or where the copyright owner cannot be located.

In such cases, any individual can seek a license from the Copyright Board to publish the work or its translation in any language.

Before applying for the license, the applicant must publicly announce their proposal in a daily newspaper published in the relevant language.

To complete a Board application, one must adhere to the specified format, submit the appropriate fee, and provide a copy of the published advertisement.

Upon receiving the application, the Board conducts the necessary inquiries as mandated by the law.

If satisfied with the applicant’s case, the Board directs the Registrar of Copyright to grant a license to the applicant for publishing the work or its translation.

The license is subject to the payment of royalties and compliance with any other specified conditions.

For the Advancement of Disabled Persons (Section 31-B)

Section 31-B of the Indian Act provides an avenue for individuals or organisations working for the betterment of persons with disabilities, either for profit or business purposes, to seek a compulsory license from the Appellate Board.

This license enables them to publish works protected by copyright for the exclusive benefit of such individuals.

To initiate the process, the applicant must follow the prescribed procedure and submit an application to the Appellate Board.

Upon review, if the Board finds merit in the application, it may grant a compulsory license for the publication of the copyrighted work.

In cases where a compulsory license has already been granted, the Board has the authority to consider further applications.

After providing a reasonable opportunity for the owners of the rights to be heard, the Board can extend the duration of the compulsory license and permit the issuance of additional copies as it deems appropriate.

Section 31-C Outlines the Statutory License for Cover Versions.

Section 31-C of the Indian Act establishes provisions for making cover versions of literary, dramatic, or musical works.

A cover version refers to a sound recording created in accordance with this section, with the consent or license of the original work’s owner.

To create a cover version, the person must provide prior notice to both the copyright owner of the work and the Registrar of Copyright, at least 15 days before commencing the recording.

Additionally, the person making the cover version must furnish advance copies of the covers intended for sale or pay royalties in advance.

A minimum royalty is necessary for each work, which must be paid for at least fifty thousand copies of the sound recording per year.

This ensures that appropriate compensation is provided to the copyright owner for the use of their work in cover versions.

The Delhi High Court, in the case of Star India Pvt Ltd v. Piyush Aggarwal, clarified that the term “sound recording” includes subsequent original sound recordings made from musical and literary works, commonly known as version recordings.

These version recordings are created after the initial sound recording and utilise musical and literary works.

Statutory Licensing for Broadcasting of Literary and Musical Work and Sound Recording

Section 31-D of the Indian Act provides a framework for statutory licensing that enables broadcasting organisations to communicate published works to the public through television or radio broadcasts, as well as performances of published musical and lyrical works and sound recordings.

To utilise this statutory license, the broadcasting organisation must provide prior notice to the owners of the copyrighted works, specifying the duration and territorial coverage of the intended broadcast.

In return, the organisation is obligated to pay royalties to the owners for the use of their copyrighted works.

It is important to note that the rates of royalty differ between television broadcasting and radio broadcasting.

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As a part of the royalty rate determination process, the Copyright Board may ask for an advance deposit from the broadcasting organisation to the rights owner.

By establishing a clear mechanism for licensing and royalty payments, this provision strikes a balance between the interests of broadcasting organisations and the rights of copyright holders.

License to Create and Publish Translation of Literary or Dramatic Work in any Language

Section 32 of the Indian Act outlines the provisions for obtaining a license to produce and publish a translation of a literary or dramatic work.

After a period of seven years from the first publication of a work, any person can apply to the Copyright Board for such a license.

In the case of non-Indian works, the application for a translation license can be made after three years after the first publication of the work.

This applies to translations in printed or analogous forms of reproduction of literary or dramatic works in any language commonly used in India.

The purpose of such translations should be for teaching, scholarship, or research.

The application request for translation can be submitted one year after the publication of the work if it is in a language that is not widely spoken in any developed country.

Section 32 aims to promote the availability of translated literary and dramatic works by granting licenses for their production and publication.

By allowing translations into various languages, the Act supports educational, scholarly, and research endeavors.

License to Reproduce and Publish Works for Specific Objectives

Section 32-A of the Indian Act deals with the provisions for obtaining a license to reproduce and publish certain works.

It allows any person to apply to the Copyright Board for such a license after the relevant period from the date of the first publication of an edition of the work.

The application for a license can be made if the copies of the edition are not available in India or have not been put on sale to the general public or for systematic instructional activities within India for a continuous period of six months.

The price of such copies should be reasonably related to the prevailing market rates for similar works in India, as determined by the owner of the reproduction rights or any authorised person.

The prescribed periods for different types of work are as follows:

  • Seven years for works of fiction, poetry, drama, music, or art.
  • Three years for works related to natural science, physical science, mathematics, or technology.
  • Five years for any other type of work.


The assignment and licensing of copyright in India play a crucial role in the protection and management of intellectual property.

These legal mechanisms provide a framework for dealing with copyright and ensuring the rights of authors and owners are respected.

The assignment involves the transfer of ownership and a bundle of rights associated with the copyrighted work.

It grants the assignee sole authority and exclusive rights, allowing them to control and enforce the economic rights of the work.

On the other hand, licensing allows the copyright owner to grant permission to another person by license while retaining ownership.

Licensing arrangements vary, from exclusive licenses that confer exclusive authority to non-exclusive licenses that allow multiple parties to use the work.

The license agreement specifies the terms, including the quantum of royalty and the mode of license.

These licensing arrangements also extend to broadcasting licenses, granting broadcasting rights to transmit works to the public.

It is essential to balance the level of originality and the protection of copyright while facilitating the dissemination of creative works to benefit society.


What is the difference between assignment and licensing of copyright?

The assignment involves the transfer of ownership and a bundle of rights associated with the copyrighted work, while licensing allows the owner to grant permissions to another person while retaining ownership of the copyright.

What rights does an assignee have in copyright?

An assignee has exclusive authority and control over the economic rights associated with the copyrighted work, including the right to reproduce, distribute, and publicly display the work.

What rights are granted in a license agreement?

The rights granted in a license agreement can vary depending on the terms negotiated between the copyright owner and the licensee. It may include the right to use, reproduce, distribute, display, or perform the copyrighted work.

What is the role of royalties in licensing?

Royalties are the payments made by the licensee to the copyright owner for the authorised use of the copyrighted work. The quantum of royalty is typically specified in the license agreement.

Can licensing arrangements include broadcasting rights?

Yes, licensing arrangements can include broadcasting rights, allowing broadcasters to transmit copyrighted works to the public through television or radio.

Broadcasting licenses specify the duration and territorial coverage of the broadcast.

Write three key features of a copyright assignment agreement.

a. Ownership can be assigned either fully or partially.

b. The assignment needs to include information regarding the length of time required.

c. It is important to specify the territorial extent of the assignment.