In the world of construction, an architect holds a remarkable position. Generally, an architect is often subjected to resentment, and faces multiple disputes when he or she tries to balance between the builders and the owners of the building. An architect quite often turns to be the ultimate decision maker on any project, a question then arises would that give, the architect, as the creator and legal ‘author’ of a building a ‘right to object’ to the modification or destruction of their work by the owner of the building? In a recent judgment, the Delhi High Court has answered the question in negative.

In Raj Rewal v. Union of India and Ors., a suit was instituted seeking for a mandatory injunction against Indian Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO), in which, the Delhi High Court comprehensively rejected the claim that an author’s moral rights over a building take precedence over the rights of the building owner to destroy or modify the building.

In this case, the Hall of Nations building was designed by the architect Raj Rewal and structural designer Mahendra Raj. The building stood tall in the Pragati Maidan grounds in New Delhi as was widely hailed as an icon of modernist Indian architecture. In 2016, the ITPO had proposed to destroy the Hall of Nations complex in order to build an ‘Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre’. Even after, several attempts of the Plaintiff to protect the building, the building was demolished. After which, a suit was instituted by the Plaintiff against the actions of ITPO, claiming that the demolition had derogated the Plaintiff’s special rights under Section 57 of the Copyrights Act and had prayed for a mandatory injunction to reinstate the building to its original position.

In this context, it is significant to understand the meaning of Section 57 of the Act. Section 57 of the Copyrights Act protects the author’s right of paternity as also right of integrity and hence makes actionable, distortion, mutilation or modification thereof, if established to be prejudicial to the author’s reputation or honour; the act of demolition of the buildings aforesaid is contrary to the provisions of Section 57 of the Act.

In this case, the Court observed that, by allowing the Plaintiff’s petition, the Court would impose a restriction on the Defendant’s right to deal with their property guaranteed under Article 300A of the Indian Constitution. Further the Court held that, the statutory rights of the Plaintiff under Section 57 of the Copyrights Act cannot be read as a right given to an author to prevent the destruction of a work in its entirety. Therefore, the Court did not find any cause of action in the present claim and had dismissed the same accordingly.

Ultimately, this decision by the Court reflects the lacuna in framing the Copyrights Act especially in regard to the moral rights in architectural works in specific and thus, unless and until there is a clear law, author of an work would be put in a unsafe and icy surface when it comes to protecting the integrity of their work.

Summary