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Bollywood Song Triggered Copyright Clash

In a reminder that, where apparently conflicting intellectual property rights exist, it is the first in time that usually prevails, the Performing Rights Society (PRS) has had its exclusive rights in respect of a popular Bollywood song upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The composers of the song, as members of PRS, had assigned to the company all relevant worldwide rights in works that they owned or might acquire. However, they subsequently wrote the song that featured in a Bollywood film and purported to assign rights in respect of it to the film’s producers.

PRS sued a satellite television company which argued that it had, via a chain of licensing agreements, acquired the right to broadcast the song. PRS was granted summary judgment after the High Court ruled that the broadcaster had no realistic prospect of successfully defending the claim.

In challenging that decision, the broadcaster insisted that the relevant copyright in the song did not come within the class of rights that had been assigned to PRS. It was contended that the composers never owned the copyright in the song which had belonged from the outset to the film producers who commissioned it.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court found that the composers’ agreement with PRS had taken effect as an equitable assignment of any copyrights that they owned or might acquire in the future. On a correct reading of the agreement, both legal and equitable title to the rights in the song had devolved upon PRS as the first assignee in time.