Decided by the Supreme Court of India on May 20, 2022
The Appellant had filed an application under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“Cr.P.C.”), seeking instructions from the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate for the filing of a FIR against the Respondent-Accused (“Accused”) for violations of Sections 51, 63, and 64 of the Copyright Act, read with Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (“IPC”). The FIR was duly registered by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate; however, the Accused filed a writ petition in the High Court of Delhi claiming that an offence under Section 63 of the Copyright Act is non cognisable and non bailable. The writ petition was subsequently allowed and the FIR was quashed. Hence, the present appeal before the Supreme Court (“Court”) challenging the direction of the High Court.
- Whether Section 63 of the Copyright Act is a non-cognisable and non bailable offence?
- Whether provisions under Section 63 provide any room for ambiguous interpretation with respect to the punishment imposed?
The Court, while referring to Section 63 of the Copyright Act and Part II of the First Schedule of Cr.P.C, noted that offenses under Section 63 of the Copyright Act are punishable by imprisonment for a time not less than six months but not more than three years, as well as a fine. Part II states that an offence is non cognizable and bailable if it is penalised by imprisonment for less than three years or by a fine only. If the offence is punished by imprisonment for three years or more but no more than seven years, it is cognizable and non-bailable. Pursuant to Section 63, any individual who wilfully infringes or aids in the violation of a copyright commits a criminal offence. The Court was of the opinion that where an offence corresponds to punishment of up to three years (but does not exceed seven years), it would be a cognisable offence. The Court declared that there is no ambiguity under the First Schedule of the Cr.P.C. Whenever the offence is penalised by imprisonment for less than three years or by a fine is it considered non cognizable.
The bench comprising Justice MR Shah and Justice BV Nagarathna clarified that offences under Section 63 of the Copyright Act are cognizable and non bailable. The Court focused on the number of years of punishment which would be necessary for an offence to be considered cognizable. This judgement is significant as it provides clarity on the interpretation of Section 63 and overrules the judgements of various High Courts which had passed orders to the contrary. The Court declared that there is no ambiguity in the harmonious interpretation of provisions of Part II of the First Schedule of Cr.P.C and Section 63 of the Copyright Act.