Najma Heptulla vs Orient Longman Ltd. And Ors.
Citation: AIR 1989 Delhi 63
Court: Delhi High Court
Bench: Justice BN Kirpal
Facts: The dispute revolves around the autobiography of the famous Indian freedom fighter, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad (“Maulana Azad”). The book was titled “India Wins Freedom” and was penned by Professor Humayun Kabir (“Professor Kabir”). Maulana Azad and Professor Kabir worked closely to create this literary work. Maulana would recite his life stories and provide notes to the Professor, who in turn documented the same in written format. Maulana Azad would then go over the composed work and approve it. The book was completed in 1957 and was due for publication. However, Maulana passed away in 1958 before the publication of this book.
Professor Kabir had approached the National Archive Library and requested them to be the trustee of the book and of an additional 30 pages that were meant to be published 30 years after the death of Maulana Azad. The National Archive Library accepted the offer. Professor Kabir then entered into an agreement with Oriental Longman Ltd. for the publication of the book, excluding the 30 pages. The legal heirs of Maulana Azad, his sister Fatima Begum, and his nephew Noorudin Khan consented to this arrangement.
In a property dispute, it was clarified by the Court that it was Noorudin and not Fatima Begum who was the sole owner of all rights over Maulana’s writings, whether published or unpublished. . Therefore, when Oriental Longman intended to publish the additional 30 pages in 1988, they informed Noorudin of their intentions. Noordin agreed to this arrangement through a written agreement.
Plaintiff, the granddaughter of Fatima Begum sent a legal notice to the National Archive Library, stating that the legal heirs of Maulana Azad have the sole right over all his writings and the Library must not open the seal of the unpublished work sent to them by Professor Kabir and neither is Oriental Longman allowed to published Maulana’s work without her due consent.
Whether Maulana Azad was the sole author of ‘India Wins Freedom’?
Whether Professor Kabir had the authority to enter into an agreement with Oriental Longman Ltd. regarding the said book?
Law Involved: Section 2(d), Section 55(2), and Section 18 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
Analysis: The Court considered the definition of an author provided in Section 2(d) and 55(2) of the Copyright Act. It was observed that although Maulana Azad was the owner of the book, he was not its sole owner, since Professor Kabir had contributed greatly to the work. It was decided that Maulana Azad and Professor Kabir were joint authors of the book.
This decision was supported by the fact that Professor Kabir did not just verbatim translate the story recited by Maulana Azad, he often had to work with ideas recited by Maulana Azad in Urdu. He was required to edit and arrange the stories to make a cohesive end piece. The Court went ahead to state that the Professor’s contribution enables him to be considered as a sole author, but since that was not the intention, he is not the sole author. The intention was determined through the sharing of royalties, an arrangement set up by Professor Kabir.
Regarding the second issue, the court held that as per Section 18 of the Act, an author has the right to assign their work. As per Section 19, the consent of the legal heirs is required if one or more of the joint authors are deceased and evidence showed that the legal heirs (including Fatima Begum) had consented to the arrangement in a written agreement.
Conclusion: The judgement is considered to be a landmark one since it sheds light on the nature of joint authorship. It places importance on the intention of the creators rather than technical elements of authorship. The judgement also clarifies the position on the rights of legal heirs of a deceased joint author.