In the latest development involving “copyright societies” under the Copyright Act (“Act”), a Single Judge of the Delhi HC has restrained three entities- Indian Performing Rights Society (“IPRS”), Phonographic Performance Limited (“PPL”) and Novex Communications from issuing or granting licenses in breach of S.33 of Act. The interim order passed by Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva, came in a Writ Petition (“Petition”) filed by M/s Event and Entertainment Management Association (“Petitioner”) and has directed IPRS, PPL and Novex to refrain from any actions violative of S.33 till the next date of hearing, i.e, 24.04.2017. S.33 of the Act, which deals with the registration of copyright societies, lays down that only registered copyright societies shall have the right to issue licences in respect of copyrighted works. Copyright societies are essentially entities, which administer the issuing of licences in respect of copyrighted works on behalf of the copyright owners.
As per the Petitioner, represented through Advs.Abhishek Malhotra and Kumar Sudeep of TMT Law Practices, Respondents 3-5 (PPL, IPRS and Novex respectively) were carrying on the business of granting licences in contravention of S.33 of the Act. While the registration of Respondents 3 and 4 had expired on 31.06.2013 itself, the fifth Respondent was never registered as a copyright society for the purposes of S.33, according to the Petitioner. Union of India (“Union”) and Copyright Office were arraigned as first and second Respondents respectively and the Petitioner has sought a writ of mandamus directing the Union to conduct an enquiry into the affairs of Respondents 3-5. In response to this, Union has submitted that an enquiry against Respondents 3 and 4 is already underway and a notification has been put on the website of Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy (DIPP) informing the public that Respondents 3 and 4 are no longer registered as copyright societies.
Although Union has come on record stating that an investigation is underway, readers may do well to recall that the inquiry report in the investigation against IPRS is long overdue. The inquiry, which was initially headed by the former judge, Justice Mukul Mudgal, was later on taken over by the YC Dangey, a retired Joint Secretary from the law ministry. One of the terms of the reference for the inquiry officer was to examine if an investigation against PPL was required as well. The inquiry itself was the outcome of a sordid saga involving IPRS, which included charges of wrongful withholding of royalties to artists and money laundering, among others.
Interestingly enough, the CEO of IPRS has reacted to the verdict by stating that the order applies only to societies functioning under S.33 of the Act and it will have no application to his organisation as they function under the ambit of S.30. This again, is one among the many classic strategies attempted by these societies to wriggle out of the scrutiny of the Act (for a discussion on this, see here).
One can only hope that with the Delhi High Court getting involved in the matter, there could be more pressure on the Union to bring out the inquiry report at the earliest and decisive action will be taken against these societies once and for all, relieving the aggrieved parties of the pain of approaching the courts each time. Till then, the injunction passed by the Single Judge should put a leash on the high handedness of these conniving organisations.
It should also be added that given the standard operating procedure of these entities, with enhanced attempts made to extract money from event organisers during the New Year season, the timing of the order could not have been more timely. Delhi HC turned out to be the secret Santa for those dreading the payment to the Grinch trying to steal their Christmas!
Image from here