The Madras High Court on Monday admitted a plea from music maestro Ilayaraja to stay the operation of a single Judge's order that permanently restrained him from claiming copyright over entire musical work and sound recordings related to 30 feature films in south Indian languages produced during the 1980s.

The Division Bench comprising Justice M Duraiswamy and Justice T V Tamil Selvi, which admitted the application, ordered notice to the defendants, Indian Record Manufacturing Company Limited (INRECO) in Chennai, Agi Music Sdn Bhd in Malaysia and Unisys Info Solutions Private Limited in Haryana, returnable in two weeks.

The application arose out of a civil suit from the music maestro.

Originally, INRECO filed a suit against Ilayaraja and the other two firms (2nd and 3rd defendants in the present appeal) seeking a permanent injunction restraining them from in any manner infringing its copyright over the entire musical works and sound recordings contained in the schedule mentioned feature films in any manner whatsoever. A single Judge by an order passed on February 13, 2020 granted the relief sought.

Now, based on the order, INRECO is making attempts for commercial exploitation of the copyrights over the musical works. Unless, an interim stay of the operation of the order is passed, he would be subjected to huge loss and hardship, Ilayaraja contended.

Among other things, Ilayaraja submitted that INRECO had claimed exclusive copyright based on the agreement with the respective film producers, on the premises that the respective film producers were the owners of the musical works, whereas Ilayaraja, who was the producer and composer of the original musical work, claimed copyright over his musical work as the author and producer of the work.

The impugned order was without jurisdiction and the single judge had erred in exercising the jurisdiction. The INRECO's suit and the connected original application were commercial disputes falling within the meaning of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 and were also of a specified value. Hence, it ought to have been transferred to the Commercial Division of the Madras High Court under that Act.

Failure to do so amounted to an error of jurisdiction in as much as a commercial dispute had been decided by a non-commercial court.

Moreover, in 1980s, when agreements with these recording companies were executed, there was no assignment of digital media rights. Therefore, they could not claim those rights now.

The important amendment regarding this came into force in 2012 and those amendments were not considered by the single Judge.

Digital media rights were recognised in India only from 1996. The agreements, entered prior to 1996, could not be adjudicated, the appellant contended.

With PTI inputs