Author: Anusha Almeida

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”

— Virginia Woolf

The work of an author is believed to be a representation and extension of his personality. This is the underlying principle behind the concept of moral rights in copyright law. They are based on a belief that artistic creation is something more than an attempt to earn a livelihood[i].


Copyright is an intellectual property right which awards protection to a creator’s original literary works, dramatic works, musical and artistic works, cinematographic films and even extends to sound recordings under the Copyright Act 1957. Copyright law ensures a balance between protection of the rights of the copyright owner and the interest of the general public.

Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights. These exclusive rights are enjoyed by the copyright holder for a limited duration. These exclusive rights are also known as ‘economic rights’ which include amongst others the right to prevent others from using one’s work and to claim compensation for infringing the copyright. These rights are specified under Section 14 of the Copyright Act, 1957.

In addition to economic rights, the Copyright Act 1957 also provides moral rights to the author. Moral rights flow from the fact that a literary or artistic work reflects the personality of the creator, just as much as the economic rights reflect the author’s need to keep the body and soul together[ii]. Moral rights of the author have been incorporated under Section 57.

Nature of Rights

The multiple rights which are conferred under the Copyright legislation of 1957 can be broadly categorized into two kinds, namely:

  • Economic Rights

The rights which an author or copyright owner has in relation to the work are covered under Sections 14 and 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957. These exclusive rights are known as the economic rights of the author as he can make commercial gains through the copyright. These include the right to reproduce the work in any material form, the right to issue copies of the work to the public, the right to make an adaptation or translation of the work amongst others.

  • Moral Rights of Author

Post assignment of one’s copyright to a third party such as a publisher, generally the latter enjoys the right to bring a suit for infringement. However, moral rights are exceptions to this general rule wherein the author can claim the same even after assigning the copyright of the work in question.

The moral rights of an author are independent of the author’s copyright and the remedies which he may avail in case of infringement of his copyright. Originally, moral rights were provided to the author only in literary works. These were subsequently extended to artistic, cinematographic, musical and dramatic works as well.


Moral rights find its origins in French law (droit moral). In 1928, the Rome Act 1928 added droit moral to the Berne Convention of 1886. The Berne Convention was the first to recognize and protect the moral rights of the authors on an international level.

Moral rights under Indian Copyright law

Moral rights of the author are protected under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957. They have been termed as “Author’s Special Rights” u/S.57.


The two kinds of moral rights are:

  1. Right to Paternity
  2. Right to Integrity
  • Right to Paternity [Droit de paternite]

The right to paternity of the author refers to the right to claim authorship of one’s work and to avert anyone else who may be attempting to claim the same. The author further has the right to demand that his name be rightfully included in all the copies of his work.

  • Right to Integrity [Droit de respect de l’oeuvre]

The right to integrity is the second kind of moral rights that an author enjoys with respect to his work. The author has the right to prevent distortion, mutilation or any other alteration of his work. He may also restrain any action which may be detrimental to his reputation.

– There is no recognition of the right to withdrawal/retraction on account of non-satisfaction of the author u/S.57.

Section 57 of the Copyright Act

S 57 of the Copyright Act deals with moral rights of the author. It is based on Article 6bis of the Berne Convention.

Section 57 states that, independently of the author’s copyright and even after the assignment, either wholly or partially of the said copyright, the author of a work shall have the right to

(a) claim authorship of the work; and

(b) restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, modification or other act in relation to the said work which is done before the expiration of the term of copyright if such distortion, mutilation, modification or other act would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.

However, the author does not have the right to restrain of claim damages in respect of any adaptation of a computer programme to which clause (aa) of sub-section (1) of section 52 applies.

Explanation to S.57 further states that the failure to display a work or to display it to the satisfaction of the author shall not be deemed to be an infringement of his moral rights.

Case laws

This was the first case dealing with moral rights of the author in India.

Mannu Bhandari was the author of the novel Aap Ka Bunty. In 1983, he gave the cinematographic rights of this novel to the defendants Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd. It was agreed that the scriptwriter could make a few modifications to the storyline based on the novel to make it more appealing to the film audience. However, several differences began emerging between the parties including the title and ending of the film.

Held: In this case, the Court deliberated on the scope of S.57 and observed that S.57 overrides the terms of the contract of assignment of the copyright. It held that the moral rights of the author are statutorily recognized under the said section and ought to be accorded protection with special care.

Post the disposal of various objections by the author and directing the defendants to make certain modifications, the Court refused to grant an ad interim restrain order and permitted the film to be released to the public. The court also held that Section 57 is not merely limited to literary works, but also extends to visual and audio manifestations.

This landmark judgment gave a new view to the concept of moral rights in copyright law.

In this case, the plaintiff was a sculptor who had been assigned the project of creating a mural cast in bronze to be placed in the Vigyan Bhavan. It had been for around two decades. In 1979, the Government removed the mural and placed it in the storeroom.

The plaintiff approached the Court and claimed a violation of his moral rights as this process of removal of his mural had resulted in the work losing its aesthetic and market value. He sought permanent injunction to restrain the defendant from destroying the mural along with a compensation of Rs 50 lakhs for the injury and loss to his reputation.

Held: The Court while observing that such distortion, mutilation or modification tampered with the spirit of the author held that the act of the defendant was a form of mutilation and awarded the plaintiff damages amounting to Rs. 5 lakhs. The court further directed the defendant to return the mural to the plaintiff.

In this case, the Court held that where the defendant produced the work in colour and the respondent included the same in a book in black and white format, it is not a distortion of the work in question.


Besides ensuring the protection of economic rights of the copyright owner as well as the author, the Indian Copyright Act also protects the moral rights of the author. These rights are guaranteed under Section 57 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957.

To understand the importance of moral rights in copyright law, on a concluding note, the observation of the Delhi High Court in the Amarnath Sehgal’s judgment[vi] is pertinent:

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 soul of his works. The author has a right to preserve, protect and nurture his creations through his moral rights.”

[i] as accessed on 4th September 2021.

[ii] Stephen Stewart, International Copyright and Neighbouring Rights (1983) p.59

[iii] [iii] AIR 1987 Del 13

[iv] 2005 (30) PTC 253

[v]  2013 (55) PTC 178 (Mad)

[vi] Supra iv