Art Installations: An Ambiguous Affair with Law

Written By: Shubham Ranjan, Intern


Artistic works are defined under Section 2 (c) of The Copyright Act, 1957. This section states that a painting, a sculpture, a drawing (including a diagram, map, chart or plan), an engraving or a photograph, whether or not any such work possesses artistic quality; a [work of architecture]; and any other work of artistic craftsmanship will be deemed as an artistic work.

As we can clearly see art installations are not included in the above definition. Whether art installations are protected under The Copyright Act, 1957 has always been a topic of heavy debate and even after multiple judgements being passed on said topic, there still isn’t a conclusive answer to this question.


The Indian judiciary has passed two very important judgements regarding this particular question.

In the case of Jatin Das v. Union of India [1], the Delhi High Court while upholding the moral rights of the artist, restrained the defendant, the Steel Authority of India from carrying out any further distortion of the artist’s iconic art installation ‘Flight of Steel’.In 1995, the Plaintiff, Jatin Das was invited by Steel Authority of India to create a welded sculpture. Das created a 30 feet high and 30 feet round steel sculpture, “Flight of Steel” in November 1995 and it was installed at CEZ Square, Bhilai. In March 2012, much to his dismayDas was informed that his iconic art installation had been removed, dismantled and relocated by SAIL to a zoo. Das rushing to the zoo, found disfigured, twisted bits and pieces of the sculpture dumped and scattered.

Das then obtained an interim order from the Delhi High Court in 2012, restraining Steel Authority of India from carrying out any further destruction of the sculpture. Das alleged infringement of his special rights, namely ‘moral rights’, being the author of the sculpture and prayed for a permanent injunction to restrain SAIL from causing further destruction of the sculpture. Steel Authority of India contested the suit on the ground that the sculpture was being relocated as the same was a hindrance in the construction of a flyover to be built passing over the CEZ square. The Court after hearing substantive arguments from both sides, was of the prima facie view that the matter could be resolved by constituting a Committee to examine the matter and suggest a fair solution. After a rigorous round of litigation spanning over 7 years, the matter was recently decided by the Court on the basis of recommendations put forth by the Committee, according to which the sculpture would be relocated where Das would repair and restore the sculpture with assistance from Steel Authority of India.

Now moving onto the next judgement, the Delhi High Court gave its verdict in the matter famously known as the matter of “Indian National Treasure”. The case of Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India [2] deals with an important sculpture which was described as an ‘Indian national treasure’ and had been damaged and, indeed, mutilated by negligent mishandling of the work. After a rigorous litigation spanning over two decades, the Court held that destruction of an artwork affects the moral right of integrity of an artist as the existence and integrity of the overall corpus of the artist is the very foundation of his or her reputation.

In this respect, the Court in the case of Amar Nath Sehgal took a firm stand on an issue that has divided international copyright experts – “whether destruction of an artwork qualifies as a violation of the artist’s moral rights of integrity” and answered the same with a resounding “yes”.


As we can see with the above two judgements, the judges in both the cases not explicitly but do agree to the fact that art installations do count as artistic works and thus the creators of these installations are given the rights just as any other creator of any other artistic work would be given.

The legislations and the judiciary in our country still haven’t given us a conclusive answer as to whether installations count as artistic works. For any certainty to come about, the judiciary needs to be clearer on where they stand with regards to the status of art installations. There might be also the need to amend or add a new clause into the existing act to make sure art installations are also given equal importance. In my opinion, art installations do come under the ambit of artistic works under The Copyright Act, 1957. I feel art installations should be considered the same as paintings and any other artistic works and there should be no discrimination between them. The location of the art installations should not play a role and should not be a factor as to whether those art installations get protection under The Copyright Act, 1957 or not. All art as long as it is original should be given the same amount of protection by the law.


[1] Jatin Das v. Union Of India, CS (COMM) 559/2018
[2] Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union Of India , 2002 SCC OnLine Del 390

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