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Architect Has No Right To Object Demolition Of Building Designed By Him; Delhi HC Dismisses Raj Rewal's Plea To Recreate Nehru Pavilion [Read Judgment]

Ammu Charles
31 May 2019 7:55 AM GMT
Architect Has No Right To Object Demolition Of Building Designed By Him; Delhi HC Dismisses Raj Rewal

"The requirements of urban planning outweigh the moral rights of an architect.The architect cannot demand the intangibility of work because it would violate the right of ownership and the principles of freedom of commerce. Similarly, the functionality of the building has to necessarily outweigh the interest of the architect on the preservation of integrity. Thus, the owner of the building has full power to dispose it of and to destroy it"

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In a notable judgment, the Delhi High Court has held that an architect of a building, in the capacity of an author of an artistic work of architecture, does not have the right to restrain the demolition of a building on the ground that it was designed as per his work. The judgment was delivered by Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw.

The plaintiff was Raj Rewal, an acclaimed architect, who filed the suit when a proposal was made by the defendant, Indian Trade Promotion Council (ITPO), for demolition of Hall of Nations and the Nehru Pavilion, which were amongst many of his acclaimed creations.

The suit sought a direction against Union of India and ITPO to compensate the plaintiff by recreating the work of architecture in the Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion at the same location or at any other location in Delhi which is equally prominent as the earlier location of the said buildings, under the direct supervision of the plaintiff.

Relying on the definition of 'artistic work' in section (c) of the Copyright Act, 1957, the plaintiff contended that work of architecture was included within the meaning of the term 'artistic work' and that the author is the architect. The plaintiff also contended that as an architect, he is the author of the buildings constructed as per his architectural drawings. The plaintiff sought to exercise his right under section 57(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957. Section 57(1) provides that,

"Author's special right-(1) Independently of the author's copyright and even after the assignment either wholly or partially of the said copyright, the author of a work shall have the right -
(a) to claim authorship of the work; and
(b) to restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, modification or other act in relation to the said work which is done before the expiration of the term of copyright if such distortion, mutilation, modification or other act would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation:
Provided that the author shall not have any right to restrain of claim damages in respect of any adaptation of a computer programme to which clause (aa) of sub-section (1) of section 52 applies.
Explanation.—Failure to display a work or to display it to the satisfaction of the author shall not be deemed to be an infringement of the rights conferred by this section."

It was noted by the court that, prima facie, section 57 is applicable only where the buildings have been declared to be heritage buildings. It was further observed by the court that agreeing to the plaintiff's claim could lead to appropriation by the architect a right over the land on which a building with his architectural drawings is constructed and that this would lead to an impediment to modernization.

"The special rights of the author of an architectural work cannot be interpreted as being a restriction on the right to property of the owner of the land and building and entitling the author to restrain the owner of the land and building in which the architectural work has been expressed, from better utilizing his land or building by removing the existing building and constructing new building on the land.", the Court  held.

To hold that demolition is prohibited by Section 57(1)(b) of the Act, would render Section 52(1)(x) otiose, added the Court. As per Sec.52(1)(x), the reconstruction of a building or structure in accordance with the architectural drawings or plans by reference to which the building or structure was originally constructed is not regarded as an infringing activity.

Rejecting the claim of the plaintiff that demolishing of the building violated the rights conferred on him as an author under the Copyright Act and affected his reputation, the court dismissed the suit holding,

"The words distortion, mutilation and modification in Section 57(1)(b) of the Copyright Act have to be understood as making the work look, appear, be seen, as something different from what the author had created and in which creation the honour and reputation of the author vests. The principle is that the work should not be rendered imperfect, affecting the honour and reputation of the Architect. However, it is explained that failure to display a work is not infringement of rights conferred by Section 57, in recognition/acceptance of, that what cannot be viewed, seen, heard or felt, cannot be imperfect and cannot affect the honour or reputation of the author." 

It further added :

"The requirements of urban planning outweigh the moral rights of an architect..The architect cannot demand the intangibility of work because it would violate the right of ownership and the principles of freedom of commerce. Similarly, the functionality of the building has to necessarily outweigh the interest of the architect on the preservation of integrity. Thus, the owner of the building has full power to dispose it of and to destroy it"

At the same time, Justice Endlaw acknowledged the artistic pain experienced by Rewal in seeing his creative work getting demolished.

"..I must state that I fully appreciate the feelings of the plaintiff in instituting this suit..The architect whose drawings transform into brick, mortar, concrete or other relatively new substances used in construction industry, are thus not mere creators of drawings and designs but creators of structures/buildings on land…

The practitioners of such professions as of an architect or artist, thus give birth to something tangible and being in love with that is fully understandable. Their creation is like a child and falling in love with the child is an emotion which all can understand."

Therefore, the Court observed that the Central Government and ITPO had a duty to inform Rewal in advance about the demolition of the buildings

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