You’ve probably come across that Shakespearean quote several times in your life. Shakespeare is one of those people that everyone knows of because you just ought to (to seem knowledgeable during small talk at the very least). What you may not know in the context of Copyright is that none of his works were protected under the law of Copyright (probably why my school staged his plays for several years without worrying about rights). The Statute of Anne which was the Act which brought in copyright protection was passed by the British Parliament several years after his death.

So for a play like Romeo and Juliet, there have been several stage performances, movies, adaptation of the story in multiple languages over the years and while the character remained the same, each performance of Romeo by an individual actor would have been different. The actor brings to the stage his emotion and life to a character which words leave to interpretation. So while the author has copyright protection over literary work, and the dramatic work, the actor does have certain rights under the law called performance rights.

Who are performers and what do they perform?

If you were to read the Indian Copyright Act, where the definitions of performance and performers refer back to each other, you would know that actors, singers, musicians, dancers, acrobats, jugglers, conjurers, snake charmers (yes it’s in the Act) a person delivering a lecture or any person making a visual or acoustic presentation is covered under the concept of performance rights.

Economic Rights:

A singer in band for instance, would be singing lyrics written by the lyricist, singing to the tune created by the composer, but would still be entitled to certain rights under the law. The main right would be for the performer to make an audio or visual recording of the performance and license that recording. The performer would also have to right to stop someone else from recording the performance and selling it. So the next time you’re at a concert and you want to film the whole thing its only okay if you watch it privately; If you share it you would be violating the performer’s rights.

Moral Rights:

When it comes to Performer’s rights, there are two moral rights protected under the law. The first right is that the performer should be given credit for his performance. So in Bollywood movies that you watch, the credits ought to mention who is actually singing the songs to which the actors dance to. The next right is that a performer can claim damages if his or her performance has been distorted, mutilated or modified in a way that would harm his or her reputation.

Term of Rights:

Copyright protection in India generally extends for the life time of the author and 60 years after that, but for performance rights, the performer has the economic rights for 50 years after the start of the year following the performance. So if I charm snakes in the neighbourhood and have it recorded any time this year, my rights would be protected for 50 years from January 2015 (until December 31, 2064).


In certain circumstances these rights would not be protected or cannot be enforced – making recordings for private use or for teaching or research. If the use comes under fair dealing with reporting current events or review (TV, print, blog, twitter, FB – everyone’s a critic).

So if you’ve juggled chainsaws, or pulled a rabbit out of a hat, played Shylock at school or performed something somewhere and were denied of any of the economic or moral rights, you are still protected and have some remedy under the law! So while the worlds a stage, and the men and women merely players; the players do bring something to it; something worth protecting!

This article has been authored by Navarre Roy, an IP Law practitioner.

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