Copyright infringement case against Facebook for infringing Late Ravi Shankar’s original sound recordings

– Sushmita Gupta, student NALSAR University of Law

The District Court, Thiruvananthapuram, ordered in favor of the petitioner, granting interim relief and directing Facebook to take down the contents that infringed copyrighted original sound recordings of Late Ravi Shankar’s work.

Sweety Priyanka Vempati Ravi Shankar (hereinafter Priyanka), the widow of Ravi Shankar, filed the suit as some people had posted the original soundtracks of her late husband’s work without authorization. Ravi Shankar was a world-renowned Kuchipudi artist, son of Padma Bhushan awardee legendary Vempati Chinna Satyam. As the sole legal heir of his original works, she contented that Ravi Shankar had developed his sound recordings, dance performances and dramatized many plays in Kuchipudi. The suit said that Priyanka has been carrying forward the legacy through the institute, Sri Vempati Ravi Shankar School of Kuchipudi.

It was contended that Priyanka was granted copyright in respect of four sound recordings composed by Ravi Shankar i.e., Swathi Thirunal Nrutyam, Vempati Ravishankar Nruthyam, Vempati Ravishankar Nruthyam – 2 and Vempati Ravishankar Nruthyam – 3. A copyright holder has the exclusive right to communicate his work to the public. As the plaintiff’s sound recordings were used without authorization, so it is easy for Priyanka to prove copyright infringement.

The petitioner argued that using these original tracks by unknown people on Facebook violated the plaintiff’s copyright under Section 14(e) and her moral rights under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957. Section 57 provides special privileges to the copyright holder, commonly known as moral rights and Section 14(e) gives an exclusive right to the copyright holder to store and communicate the works to the public.

The allegations mentioned that several unknown people who claimed to be practicing Kuchipudi had been using the Kuchipudi Maestro’s original work on several social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. Several people had also been misusing the title ‘Vempati Ravi Shankar’ which distorted the artist’s reputation and his artistic style. The sole motto of filing this plea is to protect the reputation and goodwill of the artist. An extensive list of qualities of a person goes into making the unique personality of an artist, including their name, stage name, nickname, image, traits, identity, etc., all of which needs to be protected.

While YouTube honoured the notices of the petitioner and took down the work that infringed the copyright of the plaintiff, Facebook failed to do so.

Therefore, the plea sought a permanent prohibitory injunction restraining Facebook and other unknown persons from infringing the plaintiff’s copyright over the original sound recording works and dramatized works of the Maestro’s original sound recordings and dramatized works. She also sought an injunction restraining the use of title ‘Vempati Ravi Shankar’ without prior permission of the plaintiff.

On 2nd July, the District Court ordered an interim relief, directing Facebook to take down the contents that infringed the plaintiff’s rights.

The plaintiff was represented by Advocate Raghul Sudheesh and CR Sudheesh, Lakshmi J, Glaxon KJ, and Amal Jees Alex whereas Advocate Pazhania Pillai appeared on behalf of Facebook.

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