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DESTRUCTION: A CONSTRAINT ON THE SCOPE OF MORAL RIGHTS

Author: Monalisa Choudhury, IV year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from National Law University & Judicial Academy Assam.


An architect cannot restrain the owner of a building he has designed from demolishing it, the Delhi High Court ruled, while dismissing a plea for recreating the demolished Hall of Nations and also the Nehru Pavilion at a different location. The ruling by the court came while dismissing a suit filed by the architect of the buildings, which were located at Pragati Maidan here and were demolished to redevelop the area, seeking directions to the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) to recreate them as compensation.


The Delhi Court’s judgment in Raj Rewal v. Union of India[1] gave a privilege to the necessities of urban planning over the moral rights of an architect. It held that the owner of the building has full power to dispose of or destroy it. The judgment is significant in its contribution to the jurisprudence on the scope and limitations of “moral rights” in Indian Copyright Law.


The significance of this case arises from the very fact that the reasoning of the court differs from the court's earlier stand in the case of Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India when it was stated that removal and storage of the murals did infringe the rights of the author. The Court in a way has undermined the importance of moral rights and has given stricter importance to statutory rights without even considering the scope of Right to Integrity in its true light.


Raj Rewal v. Union of India

Raj Rewal is an acclaimed architect, a distinguished doyen of architecture from India who is recognized internationally; the plaintiff has designed many important buildings throughout his forty years of distinguished career; some of the creations consist of the Hall of Nations, the Nehru Pavilion, the Asian Games Village, National Institute of Immunology, SCOPE Office Complex, the Library for the Indian Parliament, all in Delhi, the Lisbon Ismaili Centre, Portugal, the Indian Embassy in Beijing and the Visual Art University in Rohtak; the plaintiff is the author of the artistic work in all the said works of architecture and is the exclusive owner of the copyright in the said architectural works.


The Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries designed by the plaintiff were constructed in the year 1972 to promote commercial activities across a 2,00,000 sq ft. area and the aforesaid structure was built by Mr. Mahendra Raj. The design was evolved to fulfil the limitation of time, availability of fabric and labour but particularly, to reflect symbolically and technologically, the nation’s prowess in structural engineering and architecture in the 25th year of its independence.


Later in 2016, the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) recommended demolishing the Hall of Nations complex to build an ‘Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre’. Before a few futile interventions by Plaintiff before administrative and judicial bodies, the complex was destroyed. Subsequently, the Plaintiff filed a suit against ITPO and Union of India for demolition of Hall of Nations under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, seeking a mandatory injunction against the Defendants to compensate the Plaintiff by recreating the work of architecture in Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion at the same location or at any other location in Delhi which is fairly significant as the previous spot of the said buildings, under his direct supervision.


The primary issues, in this case, were whether an Architect, as an author of artistic work of architecture in the form of building or structure having an artistic character or design and having copyright in that respect, has the right to retrain the owner from demolishing or modifying the building or structure and demand compensation (if the building has already been demolished) by reconstruction of a building by the architectural drawings or plans by reference to which the building or structure was originally constructed and whether laws relating to artistic work of architecture and the copyright therein, expressed on land belonging to another, can be interpreted without regard to laws relating to land.


Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 protects the author’s right of paternity and makes distortion, mutilation or modification of the author’s work actionable if it is prejudicial to the author’s reputation or honour. Thus, according to the plaintiff, demolition of the building/structure had derogated his ‘special rights’ or moral rights under Section 57. The plaintiff has relied on the case of Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India [2] wherein it was held that the copyright law in India is at par with the Berne Convention and Section 57 protects the author’s right of paternity and integrity. Further, it also protects the author’s right against distortion, mutilation or modification, if it is established that such distortion, mutilation or modification is prejudicial to the author’s reputation or honour. In its response, ITPO contended that Section 57 only authorizes a restraint against damage, distortion, mutilation or modification of the work and does not permit the author to seek an injunction for recreation of the work.


It was further contended that Section 57(b) of the Copyright Act confers rights only in respect of distortion, mutilation or modification of the work and is not concerned with the entire destruction of the work when the same perishes and is invisible. Section 57 is concerned with enabling the architect to restrict tempering or distortion of the work to take away the artistic elements thereof and when the work is not in the public domain, the question of hampering the rights of the author does not arise.


While referring to the case of Mannu Bhandari Vs. Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd. [3] it was also contended that in the present suit the plaintiff has neither claimed the relief of damages nor sought the relief of injunction against destruction and which in any case could not have been sought since the building had been demolished before the institution of the suit.


Court’s Decision

The conflict, in this case, is between two separate rights – the author/ architect’s rights under Section 57, and the property or owner’s rights to their property. Plaintiff’s right was purely a statutory right embodied under Copyright Act while the right to land/ property is a Constitutional Right under Article 300A, which must prevail over statutory rights.


The Court rejected the complainant’s contentions that his moral rights under Section 57 were annulled by the proprietor of the land. The court held that the complainant’s rights under Section 57 were statutory, handed by the Indian Copyright Act being expropriatory legislation, whereas the Right to Property was a constitutional right under Article 300-A of the Indian Constitution. Article 300-A states that “ no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law, no law unless expressly furnishing for the privation of property can, by recrimination be interpreted as depriving a person of his property.” As a result, constitutional rights should always prevail over statutory rights.


The Court reckoned upon a judgment delivered in Architecture Studio and Architectes Associes pour L'environnement Organisation of Labour (4) which had the analogous issue wherein it was held that the interest of the claimants in conserving the integrity of their work had to be balanced against the interests of the possessors of the structures which were the subject of that work; where there was a confluence of property, in that the same structure embodied both the intellectual property of the author and the physical property of the structure’s proprietor, the right of the proprietor of the structure would squash the right of the intellectual property holder. The moral right was held to be the right to protection of the particular bond of the author and independent of the property right.


As per the Court, the right conferred upon the author is to claim authorship or to claim relief concerning deformation, mutilation or alteration about similar work if similar deformation, mutilation or alteration would be prejudicial to the author’s honour and character. The work shouldn't be rendered amiss, affecting the honour and character of the architect. The destruction of work in its wholeness can not be prejudicial to the honour or character of the author as no defects can be seen, heard or felt in the present case. In the present case, the structure ceased to exist to affect the honour or character of the author of the architecture. Thus, the rights of the architect are limited to the variations made to the structure and asserting that the architect is the author of the modified structure.


Likewise, the court reckoned on Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 which provides for “ Certain acts not to be a violation of copyright” in sub-section (1) (x) lists “ the reconstruction of a structure or a structure in agreement with the architectural delineations or plans by reference to which the building or structure was firstly constructed”. The ‘reconstruction' circumscribed under Section 52 (1) (x) could only be done if the building or structure had been preliminarily demolished. Thus, the special rights of an author of an architectural work under Section 57 can not be interpreted as being a restriction to the destruction of a structure. The proprietor of the property/ land can not be restrained from demolishing the work and making a new structure in its place.

The Court observed that conditions of civic planning overweigh the moral rights of an architect. Also in the present case, the functionality of the structure has to inescapably overweigh the interest of the architect on the preservation of integrity. Therefore, the proprietor of the structure has the full power to dispose of it and destroy it.


It was held that the complainant as an architect of the structure/ structure doesn't have any right under Section 57 of the Copyright Act to expostulate the obliteration of work or to claim any damages for similar obliteration. Further, in the absence of any right, Plaintiff has no cause of action for the suit. The suit was dismissed with no costs.


CONCLUDING REMARKS

It is interesting to note that moral right is itself an unconditional right and cannot be treated as inferior to statutory rights which are subject to statutory limitations. As per Section 57(1)(b) of the Copyright Act,1957, “the author shall have the right to restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, or other act if such would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation”, it is important to note the phrase “or other act” meaning that, in certain cases, depending upon the facts and circumstances, an act not being distortion or mutilation per se, may also qualify as an act reducing the integrity of the architect if it is prejudicial to his honour or reputation. Thus, in cases of work involving an acclaimed architect, converting the building into ruins would be an act prejudicial to the architect's reputation as the work did attract public knowledge and the fact that it has been destroyed may denigrate the quality as well as the viability of design itself.


Interestingly, the said judgment likens demolition of the building to a mere ceasing of the display, in which case, the exception as spelt out in Section 57 (1) (b) applies, thereby, not constituting an act prejudicial to the author’s honour or reputation. The exception spelt out in this section, cannot apply to the instant case, because failure to display is not the same as making the building cease to exist.


As was also contended by the Plaintiff’s counsels and remained un-addressed in the judgment, the right to integrity in a work of one’s creation also includes the right against complete demolition of one’s work as it effectively reduces the corpus of one’s artistic work and reducing such a famous building to debris does cast aspersions to the credibility of the author. It is noteworthy that an artist is as good as his portfolio of work. Therefore, an act of destruction of a building is indeed an act harming the reputation of the architect.


The Court has invoked the Constitutional right to property to defeat all moral rights provided by the exhaustive copyright statute. The lacuna in Indian copyright law is evident. The Copyright Act does not seem to be equipped enough to deal with a complex situation where the statutory rights of those who own the building and the land on which the building stands are given more weightage than the moral rights of the architect.


While the Judiciary has counted on the intrinsic difference between works of architecture and other types of copyright to justify its verdict, it is the need of the hour that the Indian Legislative System works out on a precise approach and make the requisite amendments to safeguard the moral rights of architects.


CASES REFERRED TO

[1] Raj Rewal v. Union of India [CS(COMM) 3/2018, with IA Nos. 90 and 92 of 2018],

[2] Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India 117 (2005) DLT 717.

[3] Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd. ILR (1986) I Delhi 191.

[4] Architecture Studio and Architectes Associes Pour L’environnement Vs. Organisation of Labour Housing (OEK) [2002] E.C.D.R. 36.