What Are Moral Rights Under Copyright Law




‘In the material world, laws are geared to protect the right to equitable remuneration. But life is beyond the material. It is temporal as well. Many of us believe in the soul. Moral rights of the author are the soul of his works. The author has a right to preserve, protect and nurture his creations through his moral rights’

Delhi HC in Amar Nath Sehgal v. UOI

In today’s times, there is an abundance of copyright issues related to the moral rights of authors, which is a significant and longstanding aspect of copyright law across the globe. Copyright, primarily an economic right, encompasses a set of rights. When an author assigns the copyright of his work, either fully or partially, to someone else, he may wonder if he will lose all his rights or if he will still retain some form of ownership. The solution to this dilemma lies in the concept of ‘Moral Rights’. These rights allow the author, even after transferring or assigning ownership of the work, to assert authorship and preserve the work’s integrity. Irrespective of the works being assigned or licensed to a third party, moral rights remain with the author till the expiry of copyright.

Moral Rights And Its Development In The Recent Years

Moral rights specifically pertain to the personal rights of an author concerning the integrity of his works, aiming to prevent any revisions or alterations irrespective of ownership. They present an intriguing counterbalance to the dominant economic considerations that shape contemporary copyright discussions. This, in turn, opens up the possibility of exploring new approaches to resolving copyright conflicts. The development of a moral rights framework within the Indian Copyright Act of 1957 has been a gradual, interactive process that prioritizes the interests of authors. The introduction of the Indian Copyright Act of 1847 by the British colonial government in India marked a significant milestone by granting authors exclusive rights to their creative works, a concept previously unfamiliar in India. However, the act did not incorporate any provisions regarding moral rights. It was not until the year 1957 that the concept of moral rights was introduced into Indian copyright law through the enactment of the Indian Copyright Act of 1957.

Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, and Article 6b is of the Berne Convention provide the legal framework for expressing moral rights. Moral rights safeguard personal and reputational interests, granting authors the ability to protect the integrity of their works and the use of their names. In jurisdictions that recognize moral rights, authors have the means to address any distortion, misrepresentation, or interference with their works that could harm their reputation. Moral rights are often referred to as “inalienable” since they cannot be transferred, waived or relinquished.

Initially, the Act provided perpetual protection for moral rights, while economic rights had a limited duration of protection. However, the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 1994 introduced a new framework aligning with the provisions outlined in the Final Paris Act of 1971 under the Berne Convention. This framework emphasized the independent protection of moral rights, separate from the author’s economic rights. Another notable change occurred in India through the implementation of the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 2012 . This act reintroduced the concept of perpetual moral rights, reestablishing a dualistic model that recognizes distinct regimes for economic rights and moral rights. Moreover, this 2012 Amendment also introduced moral rights for performers, expanding the scope of protection for creative individuals beyond authors.

The Judiciary’s Opinions

The case of Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India is widely regarded as a landmark case concerning moral rights. In this case, the plaintiff, who created a bronze sculpture displayed in the International Convention Hall in Delhi for 20 years, witnessed its removal and disposal into a storeroom. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the Government of India under Section 57 of the Act. The court concluded that Section 57 should be interpreted broadly to encompass the destruction of an artwork, which represents the most extreme form of mutilation. The act of destroying a work diminishes the author’s creative body of work, consequently causing a detrimental impact on their reputation. Mutilation essentially denotes the destruction that renders the work imperfect.

The Court elucidated the scope of moral rights under Section 57 by identifying four distinct types: i) the Paternity Right, ii) Dissemination Right, iii) Moral Right of Integrity, and iv) Right to Retraction. The Paternity Right refers to the author’s entitlement to be associated with his work. The Dissemination Right pertains to the economic right of selling the work for valuable consideration. The Moral Right of Integrity encompasses the author’s right to preserve the purity and integrity of his work. Lastly, the Right to Retraction grants creative artists the authority to withdraw their work from publication.

The judiciary’s stance on moral rights has been inconsistent, as exemplified by the conflicting judgments in the recent 2018 case of Raj Rewal v. Union of India, which presented contradictory views compared to the Amar Nath Sehgal case.

In the Raj Rewal case, the moral rights of the author of the Hall of Nations (a building located in Pragati Maidan, Delhi) were called into question. The plaintiff was commissioned by the defendant, the ITPO, in 1979 to construct the Hall of Nations as a symbol of cultural progress on the occasion of India’s 25th Independence Day. The Hall of Nations was built using a space frame structure, not only for the roof but also for the surrounding walls, and it gained recognition as a site of cultural heritage. However, in 2017, the Hall of Nations was demolished to make way for another complex. The plaintiff made multiple appeals to the Government and filed various petitions but did not succeed. Consequently, the plaintiff approached the Delhi High Court seeking damages from the defendants, as the demolition of his work had a detrimental impact on his reputation.

The central issue in question was whether the plaintiff, despite the ITPO being the actual owner of the Hall of Nations, possessed any moral rights. It also examined whether moral rights posed a hindrance to the right to property, which is constitutionally protected under Article 300A of the Constitution of India. If so, the court needed to determine which right would take precedence. The court concluded that the Hall of Nations was indeed the property of the ITPO, and the plaintiff’s moral rights directly conflicted with the defendant’s constitutional right to property. The plaintiff did possess moral rights as the author of the work, which are granted based on authorship. However, it was emphasized that the Copyright Act or any legislation could not supersede the Constitution of India, as it serves as the supreme source of all laws in the country. Therefore, moral rights could not impede the defendant’s constitutional right to property.

Both judgments highlight a stark contrast in the interpretation of the term ‘mutilation.’ In the Rewal case, the interpretation was more literal, while the Sehgal case took a more liberal approach. The judgments differed in their approaches to moral rights based on the specific facts and the rights involved for each party. The Sehgal case did not scrutinize or consider the question of the right to property. However, the Rewal judgment explicitly states that the right to property, being a constitutional right, holds greater importance than the rights granted by the Copyright Act of 1957. It was clarified that Sehgal’s case would not be applicable in the context of the Rewal case since a mural is fundamentally different from an architectural design such as a building, even though both fall under the same category of copyright protection, namely ‘Artistic Work’.


The most important issue arising from the applicability of moral rights is how subjective the interpretation is, as it always depends on each judge’s view in each case as can be seen in the Raj Rewal and Amar Nath Sehgal case. However, the adoption of moral right under Copyright Act in India has given a right to each creator to fight for their rights and seek help from the courts in the event they think their moral right is infringed. Moral rights serve to safeguard the reputation of the author and grant them the authority to alter or remove their work. They provide the author with creative control, ensuring that their expressions or ideas are preserved intact and hence encourages authors to fight for their rights.

It is to be noted that this article is pertaining only to moral rights under copyright law.


Contributors: Malabika Boruah and Urvashi Joshi




Interns and Paralegals.


As per the rules of the Bar Council of India, we are not permitted to solicit work or advertise. By agreeing to access this website, the user acknowledges the following:

This website is meant only for providing information and does not purport to be exhaustive and updated in relation to the information contained herein. Naik Naik & Company will not be liable for any consequence of any action taken by the user relying on material / information provided on this website. Users are advised to seek independent legal counsel before proceeding to act on any information provided herein.