Who is the First Author/Owner under Copyright Act?

  • Setindiabiz Team
  • January 25, 2024
Ownership in the copyright of a work? - Step by Step guide
Ownership in the copyright of a work? - Step by Step guide

This comprehensive blog on copyright ownership analyses the Copyright Act and other relevant laws to identify the rightful owner of a copyrighted work. It explains crucial concepts like author and first owner of copyright, by highlighting the exclusive rights they typically receive. Copyright ownership isn’t always granted to the original author. In this blog, you will explore crucial exceptions to the general rule as well. Since identifying the rightful copyright owner is the first step in seeking copyright protection, this blog equips you with all the necessary information related to it. You can post further questions in the comments or talk to our advisors directly!

Copyright serves as a crucial Intellectual Property Right granting protection to original literary and artistic creations. This includes literature, visual arts, performing arts, music, drama, cinematography, and more. It bestows exclusive rights upon original creators or authors regarding the reproduction, public display, adaptation, and translation of such works. Seeking copyright protection demands an in-depth understanding of copyright ownership, as it determines who is the rightful first owner of copyright work. Identifying the first owner of copyright is not just a legal formality but a cornerstone in the protection of creative expression under the Copyright Act.

Who is the First Owner of Copyright Work?

To understand the ownership rights of a copyrighted work, you must first understand what a Copyrighted Work is. A Copyrighted work is an original artistic, literary, dramatic, cinematographic, or musical creation by a specific creator or author, who receives the exclusive rights to produce, reproduce, publish, republish, adapt, and translate it. These exclusive rights protect the work against unauthorized use and plagiarism.
Coming back to our real question now, who is the first owner of copyright work? Well, as per the Copyright Act, the person who conceives the concept and creates the work is its first owner. However, the ownership or user rights can be fully or partially transferred to third parties via copyright assignment and licensing processes, provided the first owner gives his consent. Refer to the table below to understand who is the first owner of copyright for different types of copyrighted works.
S.No Type of Copyright Work Author of Work
Literary or Dramatic Work
The Author
Musical Work
The composer
Cinematograph Film
The Producer
Sound Recording
The Producer
The Photographer
Computer Generated Work
The person at who instructs or causes the creation

When is Copyright Granted to the First Author under Copyright Act?

Copyright is granted to the first author or owner as soon as the creation is expressed in any tangible form. This includes the printing or publishing of a literary work, drawings or sculpting of visual art, first performance of a performing art, recordings of cinematographic video or musical work, and broadcast of live shows. From the moment the work is fixated in such tangible forms, the creator holds exclusive rights to it.
To further emphasize the author’s ownership, a legal entitlement to use the copyright symbol (©) on their work is granted. This symbol serves as a visible declaration of the author’s rights and acts as a deterrent against any unauthorized use. The ability to use the copyright symbol begins from the moment of creation and extends throughout the entire term of copyright. Copyright terms differ based on the type of work created, but usually extends upto 60 years after the death of the author for published works, and 60 years from the date of first publication for unpublished works.
Using the © symbol on copyrighted work not only communicates the author’s ownership but also serves practical purposes. It signals to others that the work is protected by copyright, discouraging infringement and indicating that permission must be sought before reproducing, distributing, or adapting the work. Creators need to understand the significance of the copyright symbol and utilize it correctly to safeguard their intellectual property rights.
Is Copyright Registration Mandatory for First Owners of Copyright Work?
No, copyright registration is not mandatory for the first owner of copyright work. Copyright is automatically granted upon the creation of the work in a tangible form. However, registration provides additional benefits, such as the ability to sue for statutory damages in case of infringement, sign licensing or assignment agreements and so on. Although Copyright Registration is optional, it is recommended for enhanced protection of intellectual property rights.

Exceptions to Copyright Ownership Rules under Copyright Act

While the general rule designates the author as the first owner of copyright, there are notable exceptions outlined in the Copyright Act against the same. These exceptions are crucial for understanding the nuances of copyright ownership, especially those diverging from the standard principle of the author receiving the exclusive rights. Let’s explore specific scenarios where the conventional author-owner relationship is altered under the Copyright Act.
  1. The Author is Employed By a Third-Party: In the case of literary, dramatic, or artistic work created during employment, under a contract of service, or during apprenticeship, the agreement between the two parties will determine the ownership rights. In the absence of any agreement, the author will reserve the right to own the copyrighted work. Note that the publication or reproduction rights regarding the work will always be reserved with the employer. 
  2. In case of Government Work: In the case of government work, the government shall be considered the rightful owner of the copyright, unless an agreement with the creator states otherwise.  
  3. If the Copyright Work is Published under a PSU: Where the work is created or first published by or under the direction of a public undertaking, such public undertaking shall be the first owner of copyright unless an agreement with the creator states the contrary.
  4. If the Work is Created at the Instance of Another Person: Where the work is produced for valuable consideration at the instance of another person, such person shall be considered the first owner of copyright work. For example, where a photograph is taken, a portrait is painted, a carving is engraved, a cinematograph film is made, drawing inspiration or centering around another person for valuable consideration, such persons in the absence of any agreement stating otherwise, shall be considered the first owner of copyright.

Potential Disputes Over Copyright Disputes

Navigating copyright ownership in various professional contexts can lead to potential disputes, especially regarding who is the rightful author under Copyright Act. The intricacies of these situations are often based on the level of control exerted by employers. Let’s understand these nuances to avoid legal conflicts, copyright infringement issues and other hindrances to Copyright protection of the first owner.

Copyright Ownership in Employment Contracts

Determining copyright ownership in contracts of service or service contracts typically relies on the degree of control exercised by the employer. In cases where the employer significantly directs the work’s schedule, delivery method, and completion, it is considered a contract of service, making the worker an employee. The employer is automatically the first owner of copyright, unless there’s a contractual agreement stating otherwise.
Exceptions arise when the work involves literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic elements incorporated into a film. In such cases, even if the creator is an employee, they become the first owner, requiring a specific copyright assignment to the employer. After an employee leaves, they retain ownership of post-employment creations, especially those unrelated to the employer’s profile. If an employer allows independent work without significant control, it constitutes a service contract, and the worker is regarded as an independent contractor.

Copyright Ownership in Programing Codes

A computer program, defined by a set of instructions in words, symbols, and syntaxes, can be protected as a literary work under the software category, including source and object code. We already know that the default rule for copyright ownership designates the author as the first owner unless a creator-employer agreement states otherwise. This holds true for programming codes as well. If an employee develops a program outside of their employment duties, they retain ownership. However, if the employee uses the employer’s equipment and resources to do so, the employer becomes the first owner of copyright, unless a contract stipulates otherwise. The determination of ownership hinges on the specifics of the employment agreement and the use of employer resources.

Ownership of Cinematograph Film

The Copyright Act of 1957 designates the producer as the author and first owner of a cinematograph film. However, complexities arise due to collaborative contributions from various individuals like scriptwriters, lyricists, musicians, actors, etc. To secure ownership, a producer must obtain a no-objection certificate or sign assignment agreements with all contributors.In this context, you may refer to the court verdict in the “Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. vs Eastern Indian Motion Pictures Association and Ors.” case.
The verdict clarified that a cinematograph film producer can override the rights of music composers or lyricists under Section 17 of the Copyright Act. Provisos (b) and (c) of this section specify that when a producer commissions a composer or employs them under a contract, the producer becomes the first owner, compromising the composer’s rights, unless a contract between the two parties states otherwise. The court also noted that a composer retains ownership if they worked independently under a contract for service. Importantly, producers can infringe on a composer’s copyright if they play songs separately without permission unless the composer worked under a contract of service.

Recognizing the first owner of copyright is not just a legal formality. It is the cornerstone for establishing and maintaining the intellectual property rights of creators. Copyright ownership holds pivotal importance in shaping the legal protection of creative works. Understanding the complications associated with it is crucial for preventing potential disputes and ensuring a fair distribution of exclusive rights granted under the Copyright Act. By grasping the information provided in this blog,, creators and businesses can contribute to an environment where innovation is protected, legal conflicts are minimized, and the intellectual property regulations remain robust.



An author under Copyright Act is the real creator of the work and holds significance in determining the first owner of copyright.
The first owner of copyright is the person who gets the exclusive rights to produce, reproduce, publish, republish, adapt, and translate an original work of art or literature. He may or may not be the actual author or creator of the work.
According to the general rule, the first owner of copyright is the person who conceives and creates the work. However, there are exceptions outlined in the Copyright Act that alter this conventional relationship.
The first owner of copyright enjoys exclusive rights to produce, reproduce, publish, adapt, and translate the work. These rights grant significant control over the use and distribution of the copyrighted material.
Yes, in certain scenarios! While the default rule designates the creator as the first owner, there are exceptions, such as works created during employment or under specific contracts, where ownership rights may be transferred to employers or other entities. Understanding these exceptions is crucial in determining copyright ownership.
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