In the music industry, musicians create melodies that evoke emotions and capture our attention.

Copyright law in India protects musical creations and ensures that those involved in their creation receive proper recognition and financial compensation.

Copyright protection is important for promoting creativity, and innovation, and protecting the rights of artists.

This article explores the intricacies of copyright in musical works in India.

What is Musical Work under Copyright Act?

Section 2(p) of the Indian Copyright Act outlines the definition of “musical work”. The definition is as follows:

“musical work” means a work consisting of music and includes any graphical notation of such work but does not include any words or any action intended to be sung, spoken or performed with the music;

What is Copyright in Musical Works in India?

Copyright in musical works in India refers to the legal protection granted to creators of original musical compositions.

It grants exclusive rights to the creators, such as composers, lyricists, and music producers, over their musical creations.

This protection ensures that their works are not reproduced, distributed, performed, or communicated to the public without their permission.

In India, musical works are protected under the Copyright Act, which recognises music as a form of artistic expression deserving of legal rights and safeguards.

The Act covers various aspects of musical works, including melodies, lyrics, arrangements, and sound recordings.

Copyright in musical works grants creators the power to control and monetise their creations, fostering creativity, incentivising artistic endeavors, and safeguarding the economic interests of musicians and other stakeholders.

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

Who is the Author of the Musical Work?

Section 2(d)(ii) of the Act specifies the author of a musical work. As per this section composer of the said work is regarded as an author.

Section 2(ffa) encapsulates the meaning of “composer.” This section outlines the following:

“composer”, in relation to a musical work, means the person who composes the music regardless of whether he records it in any form of graphical notation;

In the case of a joint musical work, where multiple authors or composers collaborate, an application can be filed jointly.

Section 2(z) defines a “work of joint authorship” as a work created through the collaboration of two or more authors, where the contributions of each author are not distinct from one another.

This recognition of joint authorship allows for the protection and acknowledgment of the collaborative efforts of multiple composers in the creation of a musical work.

It ensures that all contributors are given equal rights and ownership over the joint work.

Duration of Legal Protection

The term of copyright protection for musical works in India is determined by Section 22 of the Act.

Individual’s piece of work

According to this provision, the copyright protection for a musical work published during the author’s lifetime lasts for sixty years after the year following the author’s death.

Joint Authorship

The duration of legal protection for a collaborative musical work ends upon the passing of the last surviving author.

The copyright term is counted from the date of the death of the author who passes away last.

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This provision ensures that the rights to a musical work are safeguarded for a specific duration, allowing the authors and their successors to control the use, reproduction, and distribution of the work during the designated period.

Difference Between Musical Work & Sound Recording

Understanding the distinction between Musical Works and Sound Recording Works can be challenging for some individuals when filing copyright registration applications.

According to the Indian Performing Rights Society v. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association [AIR1977 SC 1443], the Hon’ble Supreme Court clarified that in a musical work, copyright does not solely pertain to the tune, singing, voice, or performance quality.

It pertains to the melody or harmony expressed in a written or graphic form.

Sound Recording, as defined in Section 2(xx), refers to the recording of sounds that can be reproduced, irrespective of the medium or method used.

A Sound Recording Copyright encompasses the collection of sounds captured in a tangible medium, such as phonograph discs, tapes, cassettes, or digital formats.

A graphical representation of music that is recorded to produce audible sounds is considered a Sound Recording.

The producer is considered an author of sound recording whereas the composer is considered an author of musical work.

This differentiation clarifies the roles and rights associated with each type of creation in the realm of copyright protection.

Understanding Music Copyright: Ownership, Rights, and Protection

Music copyright laws provide producers with legal ownership rights for musical works and recordings.

The copyright owner has the right to distribute, reproduce, and license their work, and can earn royalties as a result.

There are two main types of music copyright: master copyright and composition copyright.

  1. Master Copyright: This refers to the copyright ownership of the sound recording itself. Producers hold the master copyright, which allows them to control the reproduction and distribution of recorded music.
  2. Composition Copyright: This pertains to the copyright ownership of the underlying musical composition, including the melody, lyrics, and arrangement. The composer or songwriter retains the composition copyright, which grants them control over the use and performance of the composition.

When music or lyrics are recorded, written down, or otherwise documented, the copyright for the work is automatically established.

This ensures that creators have legal protection and control over their musical creations, safeguarding their rights and enabling them to benefit from their artistic endeavors.

Related Article: How to Protect Copyrighted Material?

Exploring the Transformation of Original Songs: Legal Considerations and Artistic Adaptations

The process of transforming an original song by embellishing, modifying, and adapting it into a new composition raises questions about the legality of such artistic exploitation.

By using techniques like audio mixing and selectively adding or removing elements from the original song, a new piece of music is created.

Section 52 (1) (j) of copyright law pertains to specific uses and alterations of works, encompassing music and sound recordings.

This provision highlights the importance of obtaining the copyright owner’s consent for such activities.

It establishes a legal framework for obtaining a license to use a copyrighted work in a specific manner, subject to payment of appropriate fees and compliance with legal obligations.

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When artists engage in the creative process of transforming an original song, they must navigate the legal requirements surrounding copyright and obtain the necessary permissions to ensure they are operating within the bounds of the law.

Related Article: Is Remixing a Song Copyright Infringement?

Legal Perspectives on Consent and Modification in Musical Works: Case Analysis

In the case of Gramophone Co v. Super Cassettes, the court emphasised the importance of obtaining the consent of the original owner of a musical work.

However, in the case of Gramophone Co v. Mars, the court took a different stance, stating that as long as the conditions specified in Section 52 (1) (j) of the Act are met, there may be no infringement and no requirement to obtain consent.

In Super Cassette Industries Limited v. Bathla Cassette Industries Pvt. Limited, the court specifically ruled that the vocal performance of a singer should not be altered as it is an integral part of the song.

This decision underscored the necessity of obtaining prior consent from the owner of a musical work, as per Section 52 (1) (j) of the Act.

These cases highlight the legal complexities and varying interpretations surrounding the modification and use of musical works, emphasising the need to adhere to the specific provisions and requirements outlined in the law.

Benefits of Music Copyright

Music copyright provides several benefits for musicians, composers, and other creators in the music industry.

Here are some key advantages:

  1. Legal Protection: Copyright grants exclusive rights to the creators, protecting their original musical works from unauthorised use, reproduction, distribution, or performance. It provides a legal framework to enforce ownership and control over their creations.
  2. Financial Rewards: It allows creators to monetise their musical works by granting them the right to receive compensation for their usage. Musicians can earn royalties from various sources, including music sales, streaming, public performances, synchronization licenses for TV and film, and more.
  3. Creative Control: It empowers artists to maintain control over their works. They can decide how their music is used, where it is performed, and under what conditions. It ensures that their artistic vision and integrity are respected.
  4. Recognition and Attribution: It enables musicians to be recognised as the rightful creators of their works. It establishes their authorship, contributing to their reputation, credibility, and potential career opportunities.
  5. Incentive for Innovation: Legal protection encourages creativity and innovation in the music industry. It provides an incentive for musicians to invest time, effort, and resources into the creation of new and original music, knowing they can reap the rewards and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
  6. Licensing Opportunities: Copyright ownership allows musicians to enter into licensing agreements with other individuals, organisations, or companies. These agreements enable the authorised use of their music in various contexts, such as films, commercials, video games, and public performances, generating additional revenue streams.
  7. Market Exclusivity: It gives creators the exclusive right to exploit their works commercially, allowing them to control the distribution and availability of their music in the market. This exclusivity can help establish a competitive advantage and maximise the value of their creations.
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Indian copyright laws play a significant role in protecting the rights of creators and artists in the realm of musical works.

With the advent of technology and the growing trend of remixes, it becomes crucial to understand the legal framework surrounding copyright.

While a famous song may evoke nostalgia and appreciation, it is essential to respect the rights of original music composers and lyricists.

Copyright action allows creators to claim rights over their artistic creations and take legal action against any copyright infringement.

Moral rights, including the right to be recognised as the original artists, are integral to maintaining the integrity of their work.

It is important for composers and artists to assert their copyright claims and ensure that their original music is not exploited without proper authorisation.

With iconic songs and melodious tunes becoming a part of popular movie songs, it is essential to obtain a legal license for using these works or creating remix versions.

By respecting copyright laws, we can support and celebrate the talents of original artists, preserving their contributions to the world of music.


What is the rationale behind copyrighting your music?

Copyrighting your music provides legal protection and ownership rights over your creative work.

It ensures that you have exclusive control over the reproduction, distribution, and performance of your music, allowing you to monetise and protect your artistic creations.

Are musical works copyright?

Yes, musical works are eligible for copyright protection.

When a musical work is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as written sheet music or recorded audio, it is automatically protected by copyright.
This protection grants exclusive rights to the creator of the music.

What is a musical work copyright?

A musical work copyright refers to the legal protection granted to the original composition or arrangement of a musical piece.

It encompasses the melody, lyrics, harmonies, and other elements of the music, giving the creator exclusive rights to control its use and distribution.

Is it necessary to copyright a song in India?

While copyright protection automatically exists for a song upon its creation, registering the copyright with the appropriate authorities is highly recommended.

Registration provides additional legal evidence of ownership and can be crucial in enforcing your rights in case of any disputes.

What is copyright infringement in the music industry?

Copyright infringement in the music industry occurs when someone uses, reproduces, distributes, or performs copyrighted music without permission from the content owner.

This includes unauthorised use of melodies, lyrics, samples, or recordings, violating the exclusive rights of the original creator.

What is an example of a copyright in music?

An example of a copyright in music is when a songwriter writes an original song and records it.

The songwriter automatically obtains copyright protection for the composition and lyrics, while the recorded version of the song is separately protected by copyright as a sound recording.