The Supreme Court of India, in the case of M/s Knit Pro International v. The State of NCT of Delhi, Criminal Appeal No. 807 of 2022, dated 20.05.2022, held that the offenses under Section 63 of the Copyright Act, 1957 (“Copyright Act”) are cognizable and non-bailable offenses.
Knit Pro (“the Petitioner”) had filed an FIR against Anurag Sanghi, (“the Respondent”) under Sections 51, 63 and 64 of the Copyright Act read with Section 420 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”).
The Petitioner had filed an application under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“CrPC”) and sought directions from the Learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (“CMM”) for registration of an FIR against the Respondent. The CMM allowed the said application and directed the concerned Station House Officer (“SHO”) to register an FIR under the appropriate provisions of law.
Thereafter, the Respondent filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court (“High Court”) with a prayer to quash the said criminal proceedings on various grounds, primarily stating that the offences under Section 63 of the Copyright Act is not a cognizable and a non-bailable offence. Allowing the application, the High Court held that the offences under Section 63 are not cognizable.
Aggrieved by the said order of the High Court, the Petitioner filed the present appeal before the Supreme Court.
ISSUE BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
Whether the offence under Section 63 of the Copyright Act is a cognizable and non-bailable offence as considered by the High Court or not?
CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
The Petitioner contended that for the offences under Section 63 of the Copyright Act, the term for punishment shall not be less than six months, which may extend to three years. It was therefore submitted by the Petitioner that the punishment for three years should be imposed for the said offences under Section 63 of the Copyright Act.
Furthermore, the Petitioner argued that Part II of the First Schedule of the CrPC would be applicable herein.
In addition to the above, the Petitioner contended that, only in the case where the imprisonment for a punishment of an offence is less than three years or with a fine, only then shall such offence be non-cognizable.
As per Part II of the First Schedule of the CrPC, if the punishment for an offence is for three years and upwards but not less than seven years, the offence would be cognizable. Thus, the Petitioner affirmed that in the view of the above matter, the High Court has committed a grave error in quashing the FIR along with holding the offence under Section 63 of the Copyright Act a non-cognizable offence.
The Respondent relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in Rakesh Kumar Paul v. State of Assam, (2017) 15 SCC 67 and submitted that the High Court has not committed any error in holding that the offence under Section 63 of the Copyright Act is a non-cognizable offence.
It was further prayed for by the Respondent that if the Supreme Court holds that the offences under Section 63 of the Copyright Act are a cognizable offence, in that case, the matter may be remanded to the High Court to decide the writ petition on merits on the grounds, as no other grounds were pressed into service.
DECISION AND FINDINGS
The Supreme Court referred to the provisions of the Copyright Act and CrPC and observed that in a case under Section 63 of the Copyright Act, the penalty provided is imprisonment for a period not less than six months but which may exceed three years and a fine. Therefore, the maximum penalty that can be imposed is up to three years.
Additionally, under Part II of the First Schedule of the CrPC, if the case is punishable by imprisonment for three years or more but not more than seven years, the offense is a material offense.
Under these abovementioned circumstances, the Supreme Court held that the High Court has made an error in observing that the case under Section 63 of the Copyright Act is a non-cognizable offence.
In view of the above reasons, the Supreme Court held that an offense under Section 63 of the Copyright Act is a cognizable and non-bailable offense. The contested decision and order issued by the High Court was therefore set aside and criminal proceedings against the Respondent under Section 63 & 64 of the Copyright Act would now proceed in accordance with the law.
The Copyright Act must strike a balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users, and the deterrent value of criminal action (as opposed to civil action) is still debated. Also, worries about an increase in police powers to arrest and investigate without a warrant or prior permission from a Magistrate, such as the suppression of fair play and the use of the rules to harass innocent users, are yet to be addressed.
In an age, where censorship frequently takes the shape of copyright infringement claims, every effort to define the kind of criminal action that can be brought under the Act is only beneficial.
Because the offences under copyright law are broad and can potentially end livelihoods, adding an additional layer of caution by requiring a warrant or approval from a Magistrate can better protect the rights of innocent people.
As a result, making criminal action more difficult to obtain for plaintiffs, Courts are accepting the need to safeguard the rights of fair users while also protecting plaintiffs’ rights by not completely closing the door to criminal action. This will give the Indian copyright regime more legitimacy in long term, as one based on fairness and justice.
Team AMLEGALS, assisted by Mr. Saksham Trivedi (Interns)
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