LEGALITY OF TRANSLATION OF A COPYRIGHTED TEXT RESIDING IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

Recently, an interim injunction was granted by the Bombay High Court in the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust v. Thomson Press (India) Ltd & Anr dealing on the intricate issue of copyright in translations. Viewing the facts of the case, it may be noted that the Plaintiffs are the copyright holder of the translation of the Bhagwad Gita under the title “Srimad Bhagvatam”. The Plaintiff correctly bears Copyright Registration Certificates to that effect.
Moving further into the facts of the case, it was opined by the Plaintiffs that they viewed a re-print of their copyright-protected work. Upon scrutinizing the contents, it was found that such alleged re-print does not claim to be an independent work. In fact, it is a mere re-print and a reproduction of the Plaintiff’s work – calling it a “Classic Edition” of Srimad Bhagvatam. The defendants, i.e., Thomson Press (India) Ltd. further claimed to have obtained a license from Bhaktivedanta Book Trust to print and publish this subject copyrighted work and similar other works. However, upon much observation such license could not be proved.
The defendant claimed that by virtue of the bundle of rights vested in a copyright, the said work maybe reproduced, performed, communicated to the public, translated, adapted or produced in another version (in case of sound recordings) embodying the original copyrighted work. Albeit such bundle of rights are vested, but only on the copyright holder. Upon a careful read of Section 14 of the Copyright Act, 1957, we will come across the law that states that copyright means “the exclusive right subject to the provisions of this Act, to do or authorise the doing of.....” . The word “excusive” states that the right of a copyright holder is a right in rem. Hence, Section 14 (a) (v) of the Copyright Act, 1957, reads as under:-
For the purposes of this Act, "copyright" means the exclusive right, subject to the provisions of this Act, to do or authorise the doing of any of the following acts in respect of a work or any substantial part thereof, namely:-
(a) in the case of a literary, dramatic or musical work, not being a computer programme, -

- (v) to make any translation of the work;
Upon reading the above, we may correctly state that such right to translate a copyrighted literary work vests only with the copyright-holder of the subject literature. Thus, the defendant was wrong in his actions.
Should the copyright in the original work still exist, permission/license must be sought before the translation can be made. If the work is in the public domain – such as the bhagavad gita – there still might be an independent copyright in the translation, depending on individual interpretation of the extent of use of the original copyrighted work. However, if the author is dead, unknown, or cannot be traced – an application should be made to the Copyright Board to publish a work in which copyright still subsists.
Therefore, it would be wrong to state that translation of copyrighted work is not allowed. Section 32 of the Copyright Act, 1957 enumerates on the “license to produce and publish translation” whereunder an interested person may apply to the Copyright Board to obtain such license.

As written by-
Ms. Sulagna Nandy
Trademark Attorney
L. S. Davar & Co.

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