The 'Case Analysis: Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India (2005)' emphasises the significance of Indian law regarding copyright and artistic entitlements.

The 'Case Analysis: Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India (2005)' emphasises the significance of Indian law regarding copyright and artistic entitlements. The case highlighted the importance of an artist's moral rights, specifically the right to integrity of the work and the right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification of their artistic creations.

Case Title: Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India

Court: Delhi High Court

Citation: 2005 (30) PTC 253 Del

Judge: Justice P. Nandrajog

Date of Judgment: 21st February 2005


Mr Amar Nath Sehgal was one of India's renowned sculptors during the sixties; he created an attractive mural sculpture for the internal decoration of Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi. Mr. Sehgal spent considerable time and effort on this artwork before handing it over to the government as an ornamental decorative piece; no doubt it made him one of America's treasures. This famed sculpture was acquired from Amar Nath Sehgal by the Indian government and then removed from public view to be safely stored in one of their depots in 1979. Transporting and storing the statue, however, caused extensive damage as well as left some elements, like the author's signature missing from it.

The plaintiff then approached the Delhi High Court against government action to challenge them further. Court authorities ordered that the government stop any further interference with artworks that might interfere with them, yet that wasn't sufficient as no answer from authority was forthcoming. Sehgal requested an injunction preventing any further interference by the state with his art or any attempts by it to violate his rights as an author, under Section 57 of India's copyright Act - commonly known as moral right.


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Mr. Sehgal’s argument - After lobbying government officials unsuccessfully to acquire his artistic creation for years, and failing to obtain permission for destruction by them, the plaintiff filed suit alleging an infringement on his moral rights by them. According to him, their decision had "defaced him as an artist by devaluing and diminishing it thereby wiping off my artistic signature from my wall".

Government’s defence - By signing an agreement dated October 31, 1960, he (plaintiff) signed over his copyrights to the government who then purchased all of them back from the plaintiff. A fire accident at Vigyan Bhawan in the sixties destroyed part of the mural; according to the conditions in the contract between both sides, these issues should have been brought before an arbitrator appointed by the defendant under the terms of the agreement signed between both sides.


The court carefully addressed each issue at hand. On its initial question, they referenced a letter from the Ministry of Urban Development on 6 June 1921 confirming their readiness to reconstruct the mural and asked Mr Amarnath Sehgal 'to report back". Subsequently, Justice Pradeep Nandrajog found that the contents of the letter had been verified and therefore, its statute of limitation began from its receipt date. To address another question regarding whether the plaintiff can assert proprietary rights over work signed off as their own and revealed to the public.

The author can sign off the work themselves while keeping its integrity secure as well as withdraw permission at any time if needed. On this basis, the court considered all but this one title as the author's moral rights belonging to the claimant and therefore appropriate copyright protection for it. Furthermore, any violations of the author's integrity pose threats against nation-culture development and any violations constitute threats.

At last, the Court considered whether India had breached any moral rights belonging to the creators. Mutilation refers to when work is damaged intentionally in some way that impacts negatively upon its creator, leading to poor perceptions from both audiences and nations alike of them as creators. Though showing only part of Sehgal's work may lead to this outcome; communication between Mr. Sehgal and India showed both acknowledging Sehgal's rights with his work while investigating national and international laws which protect these moral rights of authors and artists.

Court stance holds that degrading artwork encompasses actions such as erasing, damaging or misusing it; widely held beliefs maintain this defacement can damage an author's repute as it renders their piece useless - Justice Pradeep Nandrajog recognized Sehgal's ownership rights over Mural as evidenced in the evidence submitted at trial. The artist received Rs 5 lakh as compensation, while sections of his mural were transported to Amarnath for preservation and potential trade purposes in future years

Analysis of Rights

International standards:

The Berne Convention, first signed into effect in 1886, serves as a legal basis for protecting literary and creative works around the globe. Article 6 establishes universally binding guidelines to safeguard authors' and artists ' moral rights.

This aims to protect authors and artists to safeguard the authenticity and quality of their writings. Attributing cultural works to their proper owners serves to protect these works by fulfilling an author's right of recognition. As noted in Article 6, authors and artists and artists possess the right to prohibit any alteration, distortion or vandalism of their works that might compromise their reputation or integrity, emphasizing their cultural preservation value. This privilege emphasizes its significance.

Indian Standards:

India ratified the Berne Convention, an ancient treaty with historic and cultural importance. India continues its leadership role in encouraging copyright laws across developing nations while representing their concerns internationally. India's copyright legislation adheres to the fundamental tenets of the Berne convention while adding some unique Indian flare. Regarding legislation relevant and effective copyright enforcement, India is widely acknowledged for having one of the premier Copyright Act worldwide: the Copyright Act. Section 57 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 safeguards authors' and artists ' moral rights in line with Article 6 of the Berne Convention.

Authors and artists are empowered to initiate legal proceedings against individuals who infringe upon their integrity under this provision. Moral rights ought to continue to be legally protected in India for the duration of the copyright holder's lifetime, as beneficiaries of moral rights claims beyond the author may arise after the creator's death.

Impact of Judgement

Once the settlement was finalised and an agreed-upon sum paid for the mural's purchase, the government assumed their transaction had concluded and assumed they held full jurisdiction over its display; including having access to remove it at any moment from public exhibition. But contrary to government opinion, the Court held otherwise and highlighted how damage caused to an artwork has an indirect detrimental impact upon an artist's standing within his community regardless of who owns it.

The Court's ruling affirms that, regardless of any financial transactions regarding a work of art, its author's moral rights remain intrinsically linked and cannot be severed from it. This verdict highlights both moral rights as inherent rights for artists as well as their impossibility of depriving an author of them; alteration or deletion constitutes violations of such moral rights; changing works constitutes such violations as well. It is widely recognized that altering artwork violates artists' moral rights.

Such evidence substantiates India's law on authors' and artists' integrity rights to protect works from being subjugated and disrespected completely. Section 57 (1) was designed specifically with this in mind to preserve cultural heritage and art through respecting authors' and artists' integrity rights which ensures total disregard to works without manipulations to their character and which are criticised by artists themselves.


Indian government actions following the Sehgal case not only demonstrate an increasing ethical consciousness in India; rather they indicate how the Indian judiciary has begun actively contributing towards shaping policies implementing ethical behaviour in society. Judicial activism should ultimately be evaluated based on its effect on society - such as by preventing or permitting government interference with cultural matters. However, India's government, due to their limited responsibility in developing intellectual property items belonging to public and private enterprises alike, cannot always maintain an impartial approach towards intellectual property development. Errant advocates of moral rights can go to great lengths to defend them, which could endanger other fundamental concepts like literacy and public education in developing nations, cultural sector development and interpretations of literary or artistic creations.

The case at hand set a landmark precedent that improved our understanding and interpretation of moral rights, with extraordinary remedies such as authorial resistance being awarded in terms of copyright rights enforcement for author's copyrighted works previously not seen as viable, while simultaneously reinforcing residual author rights as crucial principles to uphold moving forward. This statement reinforced authors' and artists ' residual rights while simultaneously setting up guidelines for their future interpretation and application.

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Sanjoli Verma

Sanjoli Verma

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