The Delhi High Court recently elaborated on the true interpretation of Section 15 of the Copyright Act (“Act”), 2000 which in part enacts that where copyright in a design is capable of registration under the Designs Act, and is not so registered, as soon as the article – to which such copyright is applied is produced more than fifty times through an industrial process, the copyright shall cease to exist.
The Court first commented on the rationale behind Section 15 of the Act and said, “As evident from the language of Section 15 of the Copyright Act, copyright does not subsist in a registered design. The rationale for this is that someone’s choice of design registration is a conscious decision to use the underlying work, for mass production. The design then reaches, through the medium of the product or the article, a wider audience; it has a commercial element. This is of course possible in the cases of designs of products and articles, which are sold widely or have a market. However, that is not always so in the case of an artistic work- typically a painting a drawing or even a sculpture for instance (which are closest species of copyrights that overlap with designs). Yet the transformation of a work of art into a design results in the possibility of its protection as a design. Section 15 (1) dictates that if this kind of work is registered as a design, there is no copyright protection. Section 15 (2) on the other hand, says that if a work is capable of design registration, and is not registered, but replicated as a product or article through a design more than 50 times through mechanical process, copyright in that work ceases.”
Reviewing plethora of case law on the subject-matter, a Division Bench said “We do hold that in the original work of art, copyright would exist and the author/holder would continue enjoying the longer protection granted under the Copyright Act in respect of the original artistic work. Thus, for instance a famous painting will continue to enjoy the protection available to an artistic work under the Copyright Act. A design created from such a painting for the purpose of industrial application on an article so as to produce an article which has features of shape, or configuration or pattern or ornament or composition of lines or colors and which appeals to the eye would also be entitled design protection in terms of the provisions of the Designs Act. Therefore, if the design is registered under the Designs Act, the Design would lose its copyright protection under the Copyright Act but not the original painting.”
“If it is a design registrable under the Designs Act but has not so been registered, the Design would continue to enjoy copyright protection under the Act so long as the threshold limit of its application on an article by an industrial process for more than 50 times is reached. But once that limit is crossed, it would lose its copyright protection under the Copyright Act. This interpretation, in our view, would harmonize the Copyright and the Designs Act in accordance with the legislative intent,” the Court added.