Agi Music Sdn Bhd v. Ilaiyaraja & Anr.

The Cyber Blog IndiaCase Summary

Status of copyright ownership and exploitation after the assignee's death

Agi Music Sdn Bhd v. Ilaiyaraja & Anr.
(2019) 4 LW 418
In the High Court of Madras
C.S. 308/2013 and 625/2014
Before Justice Anita Sumanth
Decided on June 4, 2019

Relevancy of the Case: Status of copyright ownership and exploitation after the assignee’s death

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Copyright Act, 1957 (Section 13(4), 14, 16, 17, 18(1), 19(5) 52)

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • This case involves a common judgment for two suits. In both these cases, there is a link between the questions and facts. In the first suit, Agi Music is the plaintiff, while Ilaiyaraja is the first defendant. Ilaiyaraja is the plaintiff in the second suit, while Agi Music is the fourth defendant.
  • Agi Music approached Ilaiyaraja to exploit his musical works and sound recordings. He granted them permission in exchange for a royalty.
  • Earlier, he had executed an agreement on November 27, 2007. He assigned complete rights to his musical works and compositions to his wife. In return for royalties paid to him, his wife licensed the rights of exploitation to Agi Music. This assignment from him to his wife did not stipulate any time period.
  • She passed away on October 31, 2011. Ilaiyaraja contended that the agreements had lapsed due to his wife’s death. However, Agi Music has continued to exploit his work and infringe on his copyright. Through this suit, he prays for the grant of permanent injunction.
  • On the other hand, Agi Music seeks the rejection of the plaint. They claim that he has sought to grant rights to third parties in violation of their exclusive rights.

Prominent Arguments by the Advocates

  • The first defendant’s counsel argued that the producer is in a total capacity to pass on the rights of the sound recordings. Further, Section 13(4) provides for separate copyright for any work used in a film. The copyright ownership of the entire film does not affect this. Moreover, Section 17, read with Section 2(d)(ii), protects the first owner’s right. As per Mr Ilaiyaraja, the first owner is himself. Hence, the producer cannot transfer non-existing rights.

Opinion of the Bench

  • The producer of cinematographic films holds copyrights of the film’s sound recordings. The producer will not own the copyright if the author of the musical work proves that they reserved the right to the sound recording. Thus, Echo has obtained rights to the sound recordings and can exploit them.
  • Ilaiyaraja holds complete special and moral rights regarding his musical works. The sound recordings already integrated into the films are barred from this right.
  • Echo accepted the assignment of the sound recording right to his wife and the assignment of exclusive rights to Agi Music. The assignment to his wife is valid, and the assignment agreement with Agi Music is for 5 years. His wife is not an agent but an assignee. Ilaiyaraja has reserved his right to claim damages for copyright infringement. He did not breach the exclusive rights to Agi Music and Echo.

Final Decision

  • The court dismissed both the suits.

Anjali Agrawal, an undergraduate student at the NALSAR University of Law, and Rugved Mahamuni, an undergraduate student at the Vasantrao Pawar Law College, Baramati, prepared this case summary during their internship with The Cyber Blog India in May/June 2022.