Copyright License: Music and IPR

The license for playing music of some other person is a must and the person who does not comply with the provisions specified in the above Act then that person may be punished under Section 63 of the Copyright Act.

Various new artists are emerging in the field of music and getting huge success especially with the emergence of social media – a wide-reaching ever, they initially sing the songs which have been already sung and hence a question arises in everybody’s mind, whether there is any kind of license or copyright for playing music which has already been sung by someone else. These rights are covered or protected by the “Copyright Act, 1957” as it has prescribed the provisions relating to the grant of license and laying on penalties on people singing the song of another person without obtaining a license and under this Act societies can be formed which have the right to collect royalties or deal with copyright issues and grant license to the person.

Topics Covered in this article


Section 14 of the Act defines “Copyright”:-

“Copyright” means the exclusive right of a person over literary, musical works as no other person can use them without taking license or permission from the owner of that work. The person who is having the exclusive right over the work can circulate his work to the general public the and can also store that in any of the electronic means and can also give that work to another person for rent and that person may circulate the copy of the work in general public. The person who is having the exclusive right is the owner of that work and has the copyright over it regarding its circulation in general public or granting license to use it.[1]

Section 2(p) of the Act defines “Musical work”:-

“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.[2]

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Section 2(ff) of the Act defines “communication to general public”:-

  • It means as making any work or performing anything which is seen by the general public as directed by them or through any other medium or through the issuance of the physical copies of that work.
  • Whether they have been communicated that work simultaneously or at different places or at different times regardless of what they enjoyed that work or performance which is circulated or made available to them.[3]

Provisions relating with the assigning and granting of license to a person for playing music:-

Section 18 of the Act deals with the Assigning of Copyright:-

  • The person who is having exclusive rights over the musical or literary work he can be regarded as the owner of the copyright of that work and he may assign the copyright to use that work wholly or partly. The owner can also prescribe some limitations for using that work but the assignment will take effect only when the work will come into existence.
  • The person who had assigned the right is called as the “assignor” and the person to whom the right to use the work is assigned is called as “assignee” and till the rights are not assigned the assignor will be treated as the owner of the copyright of the work.[4]

Section 19 of the Act deals with the Modes of Assigning of Copyright:-

  • The assignment must be in writing and signed by the assignor himself or by his authorized agent and that shall specify the time period and extent of the assignment.
  • The assignment shall also specify the terms and conditions regarding the amount of royalty to be paid by the assignee to the assignor.
  • Where the royalty is not paid or neither of the conditions laid down in writing is fulfilled by the assignee within one year then the assignment shall be deemed to have lapsed after the expiry of such period.[5]
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Section 30 of the Act deals with the Grant of License by the owner of the copyright:-

Under this section, the owner of copyright grants license to use his works i.e. literary or musical works to the other person and that is in writing and signed by the licensor or by his duly authorized agent.[6]

To protect rights and to give copyrights and collect royalties on the behalf of the singers and to impose penalties on a person who violates the copyrights of singers, this Act has a provision for the enactment of the Copyright societies under Section 33 of the Act of 1957.

There are generally 3 societies in existence in India for the providing copyrights for music and collecting royalties on the behalf of the owner of the copyrights and these are as follows:-

  1. Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS)

Indian Performing Rights Society issues licenses to users of music and collects royalties from them and on the behalf of its members, being authors or composers and even the publishers of music and distributes this royalty which they collect amongst their members after deducting their own administrative costs. The IPRS license governs live performances and performance through any electronic means.

  • Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL)

According to the Phonographic Performance Limited they claim themselves to be the owner of the musical works and has the exclusive rights and controls as an assignee has, they also control the public performances and all the radio broadcasting rights in all the languages which are being used in our country and those are Hindi, Telegu, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi etc. It also includes songs of films and songs like Ghazals or devotional songs etc, of its more than 250 members, who are music labels.

  • Indian Singers Rights Association (ISRA)

ISRA is a separate society which deals with the copyright issue of performers and claims to have the rights to collect royalties on their behalf.[7]

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Important Case Laws on the Issue

In Indian Singers’ Rights Association v. Night Fever Club and Lounge[8]The Delhi High Court held that since the Defendant was using the Plaintiff society’s repertoire of songs without obtaining a ‘Performers’ Rights Clearance Certificate’ when playing songs or during live performance, they were infringing the copyright of the singers and their right to receive royalties, which is protected under the Act.

In Reoti Saran Sharma v. Numero Uno International[9]-Court held that mere agreement to assign does not operate to pass the property right but gives equitable rights, i.e. it operates as an equitable assignment of copyright as and when the work comes into existence.


We can conclude that license for playing music of some other person is a must and the person who does not comply with the provisions specified in the above Act then that person may be punished under Section 63 of the Act will be punished for with the imprisonment of not less than 6 months which may be extended to 3 years and fined not less than fifty thousand but may extend to two lakh. The person who is the owner of the work will have all the exclusive rights over that musical work.

Also read Software Protection- Copyright or Patent

[1] The Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012, No. 27, Acts of Parliament, 2012 (India).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Meghna Sengupta, Copyright Societies in India, POCKET LAWYER INSIGHTS (Oct. 11, 2017, 10:04 AM),

[8] CS (OS) 2068/2015 & IA No. 14261/2015 (India).

[9] 1995 P.T.R. 132 (India).