Copyright In Musical Composition: An Indian Perspective

By Sachin


The basic musical notes is just 12. This 12 notes determine the melody of a song. The copyright is claimed on this melody only. Copyright is not the soulful tune, the super singing, the glorious voice or the wonderful rendering. It is the melody or harmony reduced to printing, writing, or graphic form. 12 notes in western notations include C, C#, D, D#,E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. The notes according to Svara in South Indian system of raga are 16. “Musical work” means a work consisting of music and includes any graphical notation of such work but does not include any words or any action intended to be sung, spoken or performed with music..In India when Copyright laws started becoming intense the accusations of copyright infringement also started increasing. The resemblance between songs depends on so many different factors and their combinations that it’s near impossible to integrate all of those in one ultimate rule of thumb. Since the copyright law specifies no rules, any expert witness can consider any similarity as substantial or just as easily deject it as superficial. Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indian Performing Rights Society v. Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association.


There are some existing mentality among the people of the 4 note rule or 8 note rule where you cannot copy the same number of notes of other music in case if you copy a continuous 8 notes from a song that you are accused of being plagiarized but whether is this rule valid. The law states that anything that reflects a “minimal spark” of creativity and originality can be copyrightable. In the event of a trial, the person claiming infringement must prove two things There was a chance of Access – that the infringer had heard, or could reasonably be presumed to have heard, the original song prior to writing their song; and Substantial Similarity that the average listener can tell that one song has been copied from the other. The more elements that the two works have in common, the more likely they are substantially similar. Ed Sheeran an Independent artist was sued several times for his work claiming copyright infringement especially the world hit shape of you and even the conflict between Thinking out loud and lets get it on where the songs just had substantial similarity as a common person point of view. From a Musicological point of view to many of the musicians they both are completely different songs because they have different lyrics, melody and chords, this was detail explained by Rick Baeto in his critical analysis in his YouTube channel. Similarly in the case of S.K. Dutt v. Law Book Co. & ors. it was held that in order to be an infringement of a man’s copyright there must be a substantial infringement of the work. A mere fair dealing with any work falls outside the mischief of the Copyright Act. “It is well settled that in order to be actionable the infringement must be a colorable imitation of the originals with the purpose of deriving profit”. So we can argue in simple terms the concept of determination of Plagiarism in music needed to interpret the music in a musicological point of view and not a average listener view.


“In a musical work “Copyright is not the soulful tune, the super singing, the glorious voice or the wonderful rendering. It is the melody or harmony reduced to printing, writing, or graphic form”. No one can use our original work directly that’s sounds to be infringement. Music is definitely an ocean to experiment with but when there is a restriction to the number of notes and chords, rhythm then the concept of copyright application has its serious implications. Music has its own uniqueness and originality. If a copyright is claimed where no one can use the same type of melody or notes is absolute restriction. It is arbitrariness in the legal system for encouraging this kind of lawsuits. There should not be restriction of creativity unless it is proved there is absolute copying which obvious to even a musical expert. Copyrighting music should not be like a patent like only the person who creates it first has monopoly over the song, any musical knowledge person can come over the idea of that music restrictions, so people could enjoy all kinds of music.

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