Copyright law grants creators of original works certain rights and protections.

It is important to differentiate between authorship and ownership in the context of the law.

While these terms may seem similar, they carry distinct meanings and implications.

This article provides you a useful insight into the difference between authorship and ownership in copyright law.

We will delve into the fundamental concepts behind these terms and how they affect the rights and responsibilities of creators and those who hold ownership of copyrighted works.

This article provides a comprehensive understanding of the roles and rights of authors and owners under copyright law by clarifying these distinctions.

Having a clear understanding of the difference between authorship and ownership is crucial when it comes to protecting creative works and navigating the complex landscape of intellectual property rights, regardless of whether you are an artist, writer, musician, or simply have an interest in copyright law.

The Basics of the Copyright Act, 1957

The Copyright Act of 1957 is an important legislation that governs the protection of creative works in India.

It provides creators with exclusive rights over their original works, granting them control over how their creations are used and distributed.

Under this Act, various types of creative works are protected, including literary works (such as books, poems, and articles), musical compositions, artistic works (like paintings and sculptures), cinematographic films, sound recordings, and computer programs.

The Act grants copyright protection automatically upon the creation of a work, without the need for registration. However, registering a copyright can provide additional legal benefits and evidence of ownership.

Who is Recognised as an Author According to the Copyright Law of India?

Under Indian Copyright Law, the term “author” refers to the person who creates the original work.

The author is the individual who brings the work into existence through skill, effort, and creativity.

It is important to note that the term “author” is not limited to writers or literary works; it encompasses various types of creative works, including literary, musical, artistic, and cinematographic works, among others.

The definition of the author for different types of works is outlined in Section 2(d) of the Act:

  1. For literary or dramatic works, the writer of the work is considered the author.
  2. In the case of a musical work, the composer is recognised as the author.
  3. An artistic work, excluding photographs, designates the artist as the author.
  4. Regarding photographs, the person who takes the photograph is considered the author.
  5. In the context of a cinematographic film, the producer is acknowledged as the author.
  6. The producer is also recognised as the author of sound recordings.
  7. For computer-generated literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, the person who causes the work to be created is deemed the author.

Who Holds the Ownership of Copyright in India?

Under Indian Copyright Law, the owner of copyright refers to the individual or entity that holds exclusive rights over a creative work.

The owner has the authority to control how the work is used, reproduced, distributed, performed, or displayed.

The ownership of copyright can be initially vested in the author of the work or may be transferred to another party through agreements or contracts.


Let us examine a situation in which an author composes a book.

Initially, the author is the owner of the copyright in the book since they are the creator of the work.

They have the exclusive rights to publish, reproduce, and distribute the book.

However, the author may decide to transfer the ownership of the copyright to a publishing company through a contract.

In this case, the publishing company becomes the owner of the copyright.

They now have the rights to publish, market, and distribute the book, and they may also derive financial benefits from its sales.

Similarly, in the case of a musical composition, the composer initially owns the copyright.

If the composer signs a contract with a music production company, they may transfer the ownership of the copyright to the company.

The company then becomes the owner of the copyright and can control the production, distribution, and performance of the musical composition.

The ownership of copyright can also be shared or assigned to multiple parties based on contractual agreements.

It is important to note that ownership can be transferred or assigned, but the moral rights of the author, such as the right to be identified as the creator of the work, generally remain with the author.

Relate Article: What Copyright Law Protects?

Difference Between Authorship and Ownership in Copyright Law

DefinitionRefers to the person who creates the workRefers to the individual or entity that holds the rights to the work
RoleCreator or originator of the workHolder of exclusive rights over the work
DeterminationBased on the act of creationCan be initially vested in the author or transferred through agreements
RightsPossesses moral rights and certain exclusive rightsControls how the work is used, reproduced, distributed, performed, or displayed
ExampleThe writer of a book is the author of the literary workA publishing company that has obtained the rights to publish and distribute the book is the owner
NatureInherent to the act of creationAcquired through transfer or assignment
DurationLasts throughout the author’s lifetime and may continue beyondCan be transferred or assigned for a specific period or indefinitely
RelationshipThe author can also be the owner of the copyrightThe owner may or may not be the original author of the work

It’s important to note that the specifics of authorship and ownership can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the agreements made between the parties involved.

Must Read  Economic Rights in Copyright

Statutory Exceptions to Author Ownership Exist by Law

Under the Copyright Act, Section 17 establishes the general rule that the author is the first owner of copyright in a work.

However, there are statutory exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are as follows:

Section 17 (a) covers literary, dramatic, or artistic works

If an author creates a work as part of their employment with a newspaper, magazine, or similar publication, and the work is intended for publication in that specific publication, the proprietor of the publication will have copyright ownership over the work for the purpose of publishing it in their periodical.

However, in all other respects, the author will remain the first owner of the copyright.

These exceptions recognise that in certain employment contexts, the employer or proprietor of a publication has the right to claim ownership over works created by their employees specifically for publication in their periodicals.


Let’s consider the example of a journalist named Alex who works for a renowned newspaper company called “X.” Alex’s job involves writing news articles and features for the newspaper’s daily editions.

In this scenario, Alex is the author of the articles he writes for “X.”

As an employee of “X,” the ownership of the articles Alex writes belongs to the newspaper company.

They hold the rights to publish, reproduce, distribute, and monetise the articles within their newspaper and its associated platforms.

This means that Alex, despite being the author, does not have ownership over the work he produces while working for “X.”

Section 17 (b) includes photographs, paintings, engravings, and cinematographic films.

When commissioning a work from an artist, photographer, or cinematographer, the individual who hires them generally retains the copyright to the resulting piece.

This default ownership can be overridden if there is a prior agreement between the parties that specifies a different arrangement.

This provision ensures that the person who commissions and pays for the creation of the work has the initial right to control and utilise the copyright.

However, it also allows for flexibility if the parties have agreed upon a different arrangement, emphasising the importance of clear agreements in determining copyright ownership.


Imagine that a company called “Artistic Interiors” wants to decorate its office space with a stunning painting.

They hire an artist named Lisa to create a custom painting for them. So Lisa holds the authorship rights.

According to the default rule, since Artistic Interiors commissioned and paid for the painting, they would become the first owner of the copyright.

However, if Lisa and Artistic Interiors have a prior agreement stating that Lisa will retain the copyright or have shared ownership, then the default rule would not apply.

The specific terms outlined in their agreement would dictate the ownership arrangement.

Section 17 (c) pertains to work produced while on the employment

Section 17(c) states that if a person creates a work during their employment under a contract of service or traineeship, then their employer will be considered the first owner of that work.

This means that the employer will have the initial ownership rights over any work created by their employee during the course of their employment unless there is a specific agreement stating otherwise.


Let’s say there’s a graphic design company called “ABC,” and they have a talented designer named Miss “X” on their team.

As part of her employment with ABC, “A” creates various designs, logos, and illustrations for clients.

Must Read  Intellectual Property Infringement on Instagram

According to Section 17(c), since “A” created these works during her employment with “ABC” under a contract of service, the company would be considered the first owner of the copyright for those works.

This means that “ABC” would have the initial rights to use, reproduce, and distribute the designs that “X” created as part of her job.

Section 17 (cc) pertains to public speeches given on behalf of another

Section 17(cc) highlights that if someone gives a public lecture on behalf of another person or entity, the represented party becomes the owner of the copyright.

However, if the lecture is delivered independently, without any representation, the speaker retains the rights and ownership over the copyright of their own speech.


Imagine there’s a renowned author named Emma who is invited to give a lecture at a literary conference.

She is asked to speak on behalf of a publishing company called “XYZ”.

In this scenario, according to Section 17(cc), “XYZ” would be considered the first owner of the copyright for Emma’s lecture.

This is because Emma is delivering the speech on behalf of the publishing company.

Now, let’s consider another situation where Emma is invited to give a public lecture, but this time she is not representing anyone else.

In this case, since Emma is delivering the lecture independently, she becomes both the author and the first owner of the copyright for her own speech.

Section 17 (d) pertains to work assigned by the Government.

According to Section 17(d) of the Copyright Act, 1957, if a copyrightable work is created in response to a tender or request from the government, then the government will be considered the first owner of the copyright for that work.

This means that the government holds the initial rights to control and utilise the copyright arising from such works unless there is an agreement stating otherwise between the parties involved.


Let’s imagine that the government of a country decides to build a new national museum to showcase its cultural heritage.

As part of this project, they announce a tender inviting artists to submit their proposals for designing and creating sculptures to be displayed in the museum.

One artist named “Y” submits a proposal and is subsequently selected by the government to create a sculpture for the museum.

In this scenario, based on Section 17(d), the government would become the first owner of the copyright for the sculpture that “Y” creates.

Section 17 (dd): copyrightable work made on behalf of a public undertaking

The initial copyright ownership of a copyrightable work created under the direction of a public undertaking is assigned to the public undertaking, as stated in this section.


Suppose a public undertaking in charge of promoting tourism in a particular region decides to develop a promotional video.

They hire a production company to create the video according to their specifications and guidelines.

In this scenario, based on Section 17(dd), the public undertaking would be considered the first owner of the copyright for that promotional video.

Section 17 (dd) and Section 41: copyrightable works created for a certain international organisation

When an international organisation engages an individual to produce a work that qualifies for copyright protection, the organisation automatically assumes ownership of the copyright associated with that work.

This provision ensures that international organisations have control over the copyrights of works created specifically for their purposes.


If a renowned photographer is hired by an international organisation to capture images for their promotional materials or publications, the international organisation would become the first owner of the copyright for those photographs, as specified under Section 17(dd) and Section 41.

Author’s Special Right in Copyright

In addition to the economic rights granted to authors, Section 57 of the Copyright Act provides authors with certain special rights that they can exercise, even after assigning or transferring their copyright.

These rights of the author under the copyright act are as follows:

  1. Right to Claim Authorship: The author has the right to claim authorship of their work. This is also known as the “Paternity Right” and is recognised under Article 6b of the Convention. It allows authors to be identified and acknowledged as the creators of their work.
  2. Right to Protect Integrity: The author has the right to prevent and seek remedies for any distortion, mutilation, modification, or other acts done to their work that could be prejudicial to their honor or reputation. This is known as the “Integrity Right” and is protected under Article 6bis of the Convention. Authors can take legal action or claim damages in such cases.
Must Read  Logo Copyright Infringement Examples

These special rights ensure that authors maintain control over their work, even if they have assigned or transferred the copyright to someone else.

They safeguard the author’s reputation, artistic integrity, and the recognition they deserve for their creations.

A Brief Overview:

SituationOwner of Copyright
Literary, dramatic, artistic work made by an employeeEmployer
Photograph, painting, portrait, engraving, cinematographic filmPerson who commissioned the work (unless employed by a newspaper, magazine, or similar periodical)
Work created on behalf of another during public lecturesPerson on whose behalf the lecture is given in public
Copyrightable work created for the governmentGovernment
Copyrightable work created for a public undertakingPublic undertaking
Copyrightable work created for an international organisationInternational organisation

In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, the ownership of copyright in the situations mentioned above follows these general rules.

Restrictions on the Rights of Copyright Holders

While copyright grants certain exclusive rights to the true owner, there are limitations imposed to balance the interests of creators and the public.

Here are some key limitations on the legal rights of rights holders:

  1. Transfer of Ownership: Copyright ownership can be transferred through license or assignment. The owner can choose to transfer all or part of the ownership rights, either broadly or with specific limitations. Once transferred, the assignee becomes the owner of the exclusive rights, except for moral rights, which remain with the original author.
  2. Personal Use: Individuals are allowed to make single copies of copyrighted works for personal, private, and non-commercial purposes, such as research. This permits individuals to use copyrighted materials for their own personal enjoyment or educational pursuits.
  3. Backup Copies: Copyright law allows for the creation of backup copies of computer programs. This enables users to protect against data loss or damage to the original program.
  4. Relinquishing Rights: Authors have the option to relinquish some or all of the rights comprising the copyright in their work. They can do so by giving notice in the prescribed form to the Registrar of Copyrights. This provides authors with the ability to release their work to the public domain or allow others to use it freely.


Understanding the difference between authorship and ownership in copyright law is essential for anyone involved in creative fields or seeking to protect their intellectual creations.

While the concepts may seem intertwined, they carry distinct implications.

Authorship refers to the intellectual ability and creative input of individuals who bring original works into existence.

The basics of copyright law grant authorship rights to the original creators of subject matter, recognising their role in shaping and giving life to artistic or intellectual endeavors.

On the other hand, ownership encompasses the legal and economic rights associated with copyrighted works.

It is crucial to note that ownership can be different from authorship, as the legislature, with respect to copyrights, has provided a range of rights to the original owner of the work.

The absence of an agreement can significantly impact the ownership and authorship dynamics.

For example, in cases of employment or service agreements, the ownership of copyright may be attributed to the employer or the party commissioning the work, limiting the rights of the author.

However, it is important to remember that copyright protection is not unlimited and exists for a limited time.

The concept of authorship grants individuals in the creative field unusual rights to claim authorship, protect the integrity of their work, and seek remedies for any infringement or distortion.

Having a basic understanding of the distinction between authorship and ownership ensures that creators can navigate the complexities of copyright law and exercise their rights accordingly, preserving their creative contributions for the benefit of society.


What is the difference between authorship and ownership?

Authorship and ownership are separate notions in copyright law.

Authorship refers to the act of creating or originating a work, where an individual exercises their intellectual creativity to bring the work into existence.

It recognises the creative input and originality of the person responsible for creating the work.

Ownership, on the other hand, pertains to the legal and economic rights associated with a copyrighted work.

It encompasses the control, exploitation, and distribution of the work, including the ability to transfer or license those rights to others.

What is an example of authorship?

An example of authorship can be found in a novelist who writes a compelling book.

The novelist is the author of the work, as they conceive and develop the characters, plot, and narrative structure, showcasing their unique creative abilities.

Their authorship is evident in the originality and expression found within the book.

Can an author waive copyright?

Yes, an author can waive or relinquish their copyright. This means that the author voluntarily gives up their exclusive rights to the work, allowing others to use, distribute, or modify it without infringing on copyright.

Waiving copyright can be done through a formal agreement, such as a Creative Commons license or a written contract that grants permissions beyond the scope of traditional copyright restrictions.

What is authorship in copyright?

Authorship in copyright refers to the act of creating or originating a work. It recognises the individual or individuals who exercise their creative abilities to bring a unique expression or idea into existence.

The author of a copyrighted work holds certain rights and protections under copyright law.

Authorship establishes the connection between the creator and the work, acknowledging their creative contribution and providing them with legal recognition and control over their creation.