Is license required to play music at Weddings?


An interesting case has come up at the Delhi High Court on playing music/sound recording at the ‘marriage ceremonies’ which fall under the fair use exception under the Copyright Act. The case has been brought by Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) that claims to be a performance rights organization that licenses its members’ sound recording for communication to the public in the areas of public performance and broadcast. Lookpart Exhibitions and Events Private Limited (LEPL) is an event management firm that provides various services, including DJs for weddings (CS (COMM) 188/2022). PPL’s case is that LEPL should seek license from them to play music/sound recordings at the commercial venues.

PPL pointed out that music is played not just during religious ceremonies performed during the marriage but at several events that precede the actual religious ceremony to solemnize the marriage. For such parties/events, DJs are engaged, music is played, and is not the actual part of the religious ceremony. PPL also pointed that an event management company is engaged and paid for organizing all events at commercial venues. Therefore, the event management company should seek license from them or pay royalties for playing music during these events which are strictly not religious ceremonies.

Legal Position

Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957. enumerates the situations under which an otherwise infringing act will be covered under “fair use”.

Under the provision, few of the situations which amount to “Fair Use” are enlisted below:

  • Criticism or review
  • Teaching
  • Reporting of current events
  • Copies prepared by and for the members of the Legislature
  • Recitation in public
  • A sound recording by the public shall be in a closed room not including hotels/commercial establishment
  • Performances to non-paying audience
  • Not more than 3 copies of any material available at a public library which is not available for sale
  • Reproduction of Government documents like Official Gazette, Act of Legislature with commentary, reports, judgements unless prohibited by court
  • Sound recordings used in religious ceremonies, government ceremonies and marriage procession and other activities associated with marriage.

Section 52(1)(za) of the Copyright Act, 1958 and its explanation provides “(za) the performance of a literary, dramatic, or musical work or the communication to the public of such work or of a sound recording in the course of any bonafide religious ceremony or an official ceremony held by the Central Government or the State Government or any local authority.

Explanation – For the purpose of this clause, religious ceremony includes a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage.

Further a notification dated August 27, 2019, issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, clarified that utilization of any sound recording in the course of religious ceremony including a marriage procession and other social festivities associated with a marriage does not amount to infringement of copyrights and hence no license is required to be obtained for the said purpose.

Court’s Observation and parties’ contentions

  1. PPL argued that LEPL is using the sound recordings at commercial venues and is required to obtain a license for the same even for weddings which they do not possess. While LEPL relied on the explanation to the provision and that the use of music for marriages and social events connected to marriages fall under fair use.
  2. The Court vide its order dated 110.05.2022 opined that music is an integral part of an Indian marriage ceremony where events like tilak, sagan, mehendi, sangeet, cocktail parties, dinners etc. take place. All these events have music. Therefore, implications of this case will be felt by singers, composers, lyricists, producers, and the entities involved in organizing weddings and social events.
  3. The Court through Rule 31 of the Delhi High Court Intellectual Property Rights Division (IPD) Rules, 2021, felt it best to seek assistance of an expert considering the nature of the matter and importance of the issue involved. Accordingly, it ordered

Dr. Arul George Scaria is appointed as the expert. The expert would consider the legislative history of 52(1)(za) of the Copyright Act, 1957, and cite relevant case law, from India and abroad on the question of fair use and fair dealing.

Our comment

Despite the existence of provision to state that playing of music during marriage ceremonies and social festivities is fair use, the answer is not simple and that there are various layers to the same. It is not just a question of law as inadvertently the effects of this case will be felt in the social tapestry of the country as marriages are an indispensable part. In contrast the courts also need to determine the rights of the copyright owner or a licensed/authorized user of the copyright.

Watch this space for further updates. The case will next be taken up for hearing on 6th July 2022.

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