Gramaphone Company of India Ltd. v. Birendra Bahadur Pandey and Ors



Citation: 1984 AIR 667

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: Reddy, O. Chinnappa (J)


Facts: A collection of pre-recorded cassettes were being imported to Nepal by Sungawa Enterprises (“Sungawa”) from Singapore through Calcutta port. Any delivery of goods to Nepal through the sea had to reach Calcutta port (in India) as Nepal is a land-locked country. The Gramophone Company of India (“Gramophone”) suspected the said cassettes to be unauthorized recordings of their music and sought action from the Registrar of Copyrights. On observing that the Registrar did not take swift measures, Gramophone approached the Single Judge Bench of Calcutta High Court. The Single Judge Bench ruled in favor of Gramophone and instructed the Registrar of Copyrights to take appropriate measures within eight weeks. An appeal to the Division Bench of Calcutta High Court by Sungawawas successful as the goods imported were not imported to India but were merely transported through India. Gramophone ultimately filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court of India against the Division Bench’s decision.


Issues:

  1. Whether mere transportation of goods through India amounts to importation?

  2. Whether the goods transported via Indian soil need to be lawful according to Indian Laws?

  3. Whether the importation of cassettes to Nepal through India amounted to Copyright Infringement under Section 53 of the Copyright Act?


Law: Section 51 & 53 of the Indian Copyrights Act, 1955; Section 11 & 2 of the Customs Act, 1962.


Analysis:

The Indian Supreme Court deliberated upon the meaning and interpretation of the term “import” pursuant to Indian Laws and specifically within the context of the Copyright Act, 1955.

Sungawa’s main contention was that the goods were not intended to be circulated among other local Indian goods, but were merely being transported to Nepal via India. The imported cassettes would not have made any impact on the sale of Gramaphone’s cassettes in India.

The Court rejected this argument and clarified that even if the goods were merely being transported through Indian soil, the laws of the land would apply and if the goods, so being transported are violative of Indian laws, the country would have the appropriate right to deal with the issue. It declared that the term “bringing into India from outside India” in Sections 51 and 53 of the Copyright Act was not limited to importing goods for commercial purposes.

The Court emphasized that India is a part of multiple international treaties among the Convention on Transit Trade of the Land-Locked States, including the ones to protect intellectual property rights. India would be bound to take measures if a violative activity takes place on its soil, especially since the Treaty allows for such exceptions. This would not be dependent on the nationality of the party being affected by the importation of such goods.


Conclusion:

The case expanded the protection awarded to copyright holders by allowing them to question and restrict even those goods that were merely being transported through India. The court further denied limiting copyright enforcement actions to only when there are economic losses arising in India.


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