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Dr. Najma Heptulla v. Orient Longman Ltd. & Others

Article Written by Sagar Singla, student of Gitarattan International Business School, Delhi.

Case: Dr. Najma Heptulla v. Orient Longman Ltd. & Others

Citation: AIR 1989 DEL 63

Date of Decision: 19/08/1988


Issues of the Case:

  1. Who is the author of the book “India wins Freedom”?
  2. Whether Prof. Kabir had any authority to execute the agreement dated 2nd September 1958 with Orient Longman?

Facts of the Case:

  1. The main aim of the matter was the autobiography of freedom fighters and also the initial Education Minister of India Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad that was titled “India Wins Freedom”. The aforesaid autobiography became composed with the aid of using professor Humayun Kabir who guarantee Maulana Azad to jot down which he might compose the identical to lessen the burdens of the writing of him. Working jointly, the book was completed by Maulana Azad and prof. Kabir in November 1957. However, before it can be printed Maulana Azad died due to a stroke on February 22, 1958.
  2. On 25th March 1958, professor Kabir wrote to National Archives that if they were willing to act as trustees of the complete manuscript including thirty pages that haven’t been revealed until today but were needed to be revealed when thirty years of Maulana Azad’s death i.e. when 22nd February 1988. Ann identical letter was written by prof. Kabir on 3rd Apr 1958 to the National Library, Calcutta. Maulana Azad’s sister Fatima begum and his nephew Nooruddin Ahmed have been the nearest residing spouse and children at the time of his death.
  3. On 29th May 1958, each Fatima and Nooruddin was made to sign similar documents stating that consent to the arrangements that had been arrived at for the publication of The same book, except the thirty pages that had been mendacity in the healed cowl with Orient Longman restricted. On 2nd Sep 1958, an association agreement was created by professor Kabir and Orient Ltd. For the publication of the book excluding the thirty pages that were sealed, whereby it had been mentioned that professor Kabir was the composer of the boo, and he had the notes dictated by Maulana Azad. The settlement says “IT is in addition admitted and generic that the Publishers shall have the number one desire to post the complete book as at the beginning composed and presently mendacity undersealed cover with the National Archives New Delhi and also the National Library, Calcutta once the seals are broken on 22nd February 1988 as mentioned within the preamble of this agreement.” Fatima persevering to get them a part of royalty and while her death, Hamid Ali.
  4. The vital reality is that when Maulana Azad’s death, Fatima begum and Noorudin Khan, came to the settlement of the complete property, except the rights of the book. Nooruddin claimed that Maulana had orally given all copyright of the book to him which was controversial by Mohmad Tahir on behalf of Fatima Begum. But it became held that for the copyright of all posted and unpublished books of Maulana most effective Nooruddin became entitled.
  5. The Orient Ltd. informed Nooruddin that the seal of the book was to be broken, and also the initial business right would be with them, and Nooruddin would still get his a part of royalty and this was signed by Nooruddin. A similar letter was written to Ms. Nahid Siddiqui, granddaughter of Fatima, who was shocked to listen to that Orient Longman was claiming complete rights over Maulana’s book.


  • The court took into consideration the term author as per Sec.2(d) and Sec.55(2) of the act. It is noticed that there is no confusion that Maulana is the author of the book, but from the preface, it can be said that Professor Kabir, is also an author, definitely not a sole author, but both are joint authors. But, it was also of that, Maulana used to only five points in Urdu, and based on that Professor Kabir made their notes and that was published as the book. The court depends on the case of Donoghue v. Allied Newspapers Ltd., (1937) 3 All. E.R. 503,  wherever the racing secrets of Steve Donoghue’s weren’t proprietary below Steve Donoghue’s because the expression had been confined down by the journalist. Also, in Walter v. Lane, the court held that when the journalist publishes about the proceedings, it also adds the punctuation marks and puts in the attempt, so the reporter will get the copyright. The reporter not only sets down what is to be published but also arranges it in order and hence preparation of the report requires more than mechanical skill. Thus, here Professor Kabir had finished all the work of translation, editing, etc. thus, he is thought to be the only author. But, professor Kabir within the agreement with Orient Longman had mentioned giving  50% royalty to the legal heirs of Maulana, and hence, he failed to take into account that he was the only author of the book. Hence, each was the joint author of the book.
  • The court held that as per Sec.18 of the Act, the owner has the right to assign his copyright to any other person and Sec.19 of the Act provides the approach of assignment when could be in written form. When there are joint authors and one among the authors is dead, then the consent of the legal representatives of the deceased heir is required. Here, the proof is shown, that at the time of the agreement, it was confirmed by Fatima Begum regarding the agreement and publication of the books. If the ratification is not express, even then the principles of promissory and equitable estoppel say that she was aware of the agreement and she was also receiving the royalty. Hence, it can be the reason that she had given her consent. It was also written explicitly in the preface regarding the 30 pages that were sealed and to be published after 30 years.
  • Hence, as the plaintiff has enjoyed the fruits of royalty and so the principle of estoppel will apply. Further, there was no irreversible loss or injury to the plaintiff. Hence, the injunction is not granted. But, the Orient Ltd. Should pay Rupees One Lakh to the plaintiff as security.

Critical Analysis:

  • The court has mentioned the rights of a writer. The court has mentioned the dead author’s consent relating to the assignment of copyright, which might be of the legal heirs or the personal representative.
  • The court has been conjointly careful on the Principle of commitment and just rule of evidence, wherever one party has modified his position regarding another, then the opposite person cannot eventually alter his position. Also, once, the profit is enjoyed by the person, then he cannot deny the agreement thenceforth.

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