Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India and Another: Moral right is the soul right of the author.

This article was written by  Sourav Kumar and Raj Krishna both students of CNLU Patna. 


Most of the cases on rights of an author spin around the attribution or economic rights and as a result, the moral rights have been obscured. Under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 the author has a lifelong right to claim for his right of authorship and to restrain or claim any damages in respect of mutilation or distortion or modification of his work before the expiration of the agreed time period of copyright. Such damages would be referred as inimical to the dignity and reputation of the author. Even after severing the economic rights, the author has moral rights over his work of art or literary works. The case of AmarnathSehgal v. Union of India and another, decided by the single bench of the Delhi High Court was appraised as the landmark in which for the first time, the court upheld the moral rights of the author under the Copyright Act and awarded damages to the author. The importance was given on the symbiosis of author’s right of integrity with the overall integrity of the nation. Moreover, it was also held that the distortion or mutilation to the intellectual properties causes severe harm to public interest by hampering the cultural knowledge associated with the work and therefore, author has a right to be compensated. It was made clear in this case that where the owner of the copyright, treats the author’s work  in a way that is prejudicial to the reputation and honor of the author, the Court may infringe all his rights over the work and transfer the same to the author.


Copyright is one of the three main branches of the traditional law of intellectual property, along with patent law and trade mark law. It is a form of intellectual property protection granted to the creators of original works of authorship such as literary works, dramatic, musical, artistic works, cinematographic films and sound record. Further, it should be observed that copyright laws protect expressions of ideas rather than the ideas themselves.[1]

The Copyright Act of 1957 provides copyright protection in India. It confers copyright protection in following two forms:

(A) Economic Rights: The copyright law is applicable in cases of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, cinematographic films and sound recordings. Thus, the artists of copyright in the aforesaid works enjoy economic rights under Section 14 of the Act.[2]

(B) Moral Rights: Section 57 of the Act defines two basic “moral rights” of an artist. These are:

(i) Right of Paternity: The right of paternity refers to a right of an author to claim authorship of work and a right to prevent all others from claiming authorship of his work.

(ii) Right of Integrity: Right of integrity empowers the author to prevent distortion, mutilation or other alterations of his work, or any other action in relation to said work, which would be detrimental to his honor or reputation.[3]


Mr. Amar NathSehgal was a world-renowned sculpturist, who had been conferred with several awards for his contribution to the Indian art andheritage. In the year 1957, Government of India commissioned Mr. Sehgal for creating a bronze mural for the International Convention Hall in Delhi. The Bronze sculpture took five years to complete. After completion the mural was placed on the wall of the Lobby in the Convention hall.

The dispute arose in the year 1979 when government pulled down the bronze mural from the walls of ‘VigyanBhawan’ and dumped it in the storeroom. When Mr. Sehgal came to know of this, he made representations to the government authorities for restoration of the mural.

However, no propermeasure was taken on Mr. Sehgal’s request. In 1991, Mr. Sehgal received a letter from Ministry of Urban Development in regard of re-instating his mural, but, no effort was made after the said letter. Later, in September, 1991 Mr. Sehgal addressed a legal notice to the Ministry of Urban Development. However, again no proper action was taken by the Ministry of Urban Development. Therefore, at last Mr.Sehgalfiled a petition under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 in the Delhi High Court.[4]


  1. ISSUES:

The main issues framed before the Delhi High Court on 1.4.2003 were:

(A). Whether the suit was barred by limitation?

(B). Whether the plaintiff had any rights under Section 57 of the Copyright Act,1957 in the impugned work although the copyright in the same has been vested to the defendant?

(C). Has the defendant violated the plaintiff’s rights under Section 57 of the said Act?

(D). Whether the plaintiff has suffered any damage?

(E). Relief.[5]



The Petitioner pleaded that over the years mural had acquired the status of a national treasure. It has become an epitomizingsymbol of Indian art heritage. The destruction of the mural which was done without the permission, consent or authorization of the Petitioner resulted in violation of his special rights under Section 57.

Post the amendment made to Section 57 in 1995, the proof of prejudice to the author’s honor has been made the sine qua non for claiming damages. The Petitioner pleaded that the mural was the result of Petitioner’s creative effort. Therefore, the destruction of his work reduced the volume of his creative corpus and this reduction in itself caused prejudice to his reputation.

The petitioner i.e., Mr. Sehgal asserted that the pulling down and improper handling of the mural caused immense damage to the mural, which resulted in disappearance of the parts of the mural including the name of its creator. As per the petitioner, such damage was prejudicial to his reputation and hence, he prayed for:

  1. A declaration of his special rights under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957,
  2. A permanent injunction to restrain the Defendants from further damaging the mural,

iii. Damages towards compensation for humiliation, injury, insult and loss of Plaintiff’s reputation (Compensation of Rs. 50 Lakhs), and

  1. Decree to direct the Defendants to return the mural to the Plaintiff for restoration at the cost of Defendants.[6]


It is only the right of ownerof mural to consign the same in a store room. Further, the Petitioner had already been paid the price for his work. Hence, the ownership of the mural lies solely with the Respondent.

Moreover, the mural was removed in the year 1979 and therefore the cause of action arose in 1979. However, the suit was being filed in 1992, i.e. 13 years from the date of the offending act. Hence, it was barred by limitation.[7]


The court addressed all the issues sequentially. On the first issue i.e. whether the suit was inhibited by lapse of limited time period, the court cited the letter of Ministry of Urban Development dated 6.6.1991, calling Mr. AmarnathSehgal for discussion regarding their willingness to restore the mural but however, failed to do so. Since the factual contents of the letter proved to be true, PradeepNandrajog, J. observed that the limitation period begin from the date of receipt of letter and therefore, the suit was valid.[8]

The next question was whether the plaintiff had moral right over the mural under Section 57 even when the copyright vested with the defendant. It was hereby clarified that whenever the work of art or literary works is done by an author, the rights such as attribution rights, divulgation rights, moral rights of integrity and right of retraction are automatically vested upon him. The court recognized these rights and held that all of them except the divulgation right should be referred as author’s moral rights and the same to be vested in the plaintiff.

The court also acknowledged the author’s work of art or literary works to the national culture. The court connected the right of authorship with the cultural development of the country and hence emphasis was laid on the interdependency of author’s right of integrity and the overall integrity of the nation.[9]

On the third issue that whether UOI had infringed the moral rights of the author, the Court observed that the mutilation is nothing but the demolition of the author’s work as to render it imperfect and is therefore detrimental to the reputation of the author. It was held that displaying the distorted version of the author’s work may led to emergence of poor impression the author among the viewers and ultimately to the whole nation.[10]

Giving importance to moral rights of the plaintiff and on the fourth issue, P Nandrajog J. ruled that

“It is only Mr. Sehgal who has the right to recreate his work and therefore has the right to receive the broken down mural. He also has the right to be compensated for the loss of reputation, honor and mental injury due to the offending acts of UOI.

Consequently, the Court passed the order of mandatory injunction against the Union of India and directed it to return the mural within two weeks of the judgement. The court passed the pronouncement giving all the rights over the mural back to the author i.e. Mr. Sehgal and also awarded him damages of Rs. 5 lacs and cost of suit against the Union of India.[11]


This landmark judgment was given by a single bench of Delhi High Court. The decision gave a broad extension to the meaning of moral rights of author as it ruled that author has the soul right to claim for damages in case of distortion, mutilation or any other act in relation to his precious work which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation and also he has the right to receive the copyrighted work for the purposes of restoration and to sell it. The interim decision in the case was given by Justice Jaspal Singh. The judgment in the case was given in favor of the plaintiff restraining the Government from exercising all its rights over the plaintiff’s work. The interim ruling, given in 1992, laid down two central points about the scope of moral rights within India. First, the moral right of integrity under Indian Law can protect an artistic work from outright destruction. Secondly, the Government has a duty of care towards artworks in its possession. This ruling of the court led to amendments in the Copyright Act in 1994. Theprimary motive of the Government behind amendment was to bring Copyright Act in compliance with the Berne Convention.However, the wording of the amendment was such that it seemed to be a direct reaction of the interim ruling. Under the amended Section57, a legal claim by an author against unauthorized modifications to his work has to establish that the treatment of the work has been prejudicial to his honor or reputation.Moreover it also provides that the failure to display a work, or to display it in accordance with the wishes of the author, would not qualify as a violation of the author’s moral rights.[12]

It was observed that there is a reason why intellectual properties go into the public domain after a lapse of time. The reason is that they increase the wealth of a nation’s knowledge. However, if they are allowed to be destructed or distorted, it would result not only in the violation of the author’s moral rights, but also cause severe damage to public interest by hampering cultural knowledge associated with the work.

[1] Amar NathSehagal v. Union of India and Another 2005 (30) PTC 253 (DEL).

[2] Indian Copyright Act, 1957, s 14.

[3] Indian Copyright Act, 1957, s 57.

[4]  Supra at 1. 








[12] Ibid.

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