This article has been written by Chandrani Mitra pursuing a Diploma in US Intellectual Property Law and Paralegal Studies course from LawSikho.

This article has been edited and published by Shashwat Kaushik.

Meaning of audiobooks

Audiobooks are word-for-word audio recordings of a textbook which are available on various online platforms such as Spotify, Pocket FM, and Kuku FM and can be played on a varied range of electronic devices such as a phone, iPad, computer, bluetooth speakers, etc. This convenience allows individuals to seamlessly integrate audiobooks into their daily routines, whether during commutes, workout sessions, or simply while relaxing at home. Additionally, the ability to play audiobooks across an array of electronic devices, including phones, iPads, computers, and Bluetooth speakers, enhances their accessibility and enables listeners to enjoy their favourite books anytime, anywhere.

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Beyond their accessibility, audiobooks captivate listeners with a rich and immersive experience. Professional narrators bring the written word to life with their vocal artistry, infusing characters with personality and emotion. This enhanced storytelling experience transports listeners into the worlds created within the pages of a book, allowing them to connect with the characters, plot, and themes on a deeper level. 

Meaning of audio summaries

Audio summaries are the abridged versions of a textbook that provide an overview of the book and highlight the main ideas and the crux of the book. These summaries are typically narrated by professional voice actors or educators and are often accompanied by background music or sound effects to enhance the listening experience.

Here are some key benefits of using audio summaries:

  1. Efficiency and time-saving: Audio summaries allow individuals to quickly grasp the main ideas and structure of a book or other lengthy text in a relatively short amount of time. This makes them ideal for busy professionals, students with limited time, or anyone looking to gain a quick understanding of a subject without having to read the entire book.
  2. Convenience and multitasking: Audio summaries can be listened to while multitasking, such as during a commute, while exercising, or while performing other activities that don’t require full attention. This makes them a great way to learn and absorb information while maximising efficiency.

Concept of copyright

Copyright is a legal right that is enjoyed by the owner of the copyright, wherein they enjoy the exclusive right of reproduction, adaptation, translation and communication of literary work to the public. A book is a literary work, and the exclusive right to reproduce it lies with the owner of the copyright. The owner of a copyright is generally the author of such a literary work, and the copyright remains valid until sixty years after the death of the author. 

In this article, we will delve deep into the battle between audiobooks and audio summaries from the perspective of copyright laws in India. The case that served as a precedent in the matter is the case of Pocket FM Private Ltd. vs. Mebigo Labs Private Ltd. & Ors. (2021), heard by the High Court of Delhi.

Relevant legal provisions of the Copyright Act, 1967


Copyright is an intellectual property right that gives the creator of the property the exclusive right to reproduce their work for any purpose. It also includes the right to adapt and translate their work for purposes that are commercial or otherwise. However, at the discretion of the copyright owner, such rights of reproduction, adaptation and translation can be transferred to another person. In India, the legislation regarding copyright is the Copyright Act of 1957 which outlines the various provisions related to copyrights, infringement of copyrights and remedies for such infringement.

The meaning of copyright has been explained in Section 14 of the Copyright Act as an exclusive entitlement to perform or authorise certain acts regarding an original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic work, computer programmes, cinematograph films or sound recordings. 

As for literary work, copyright includes exclusive rights in relation to such work to reproduce, issue copies, perform a public performance, make any cinematograph films or sound recordings and do any kind of translation or adaptation.

Infringement of copyright

The claim regarding copyright arises as soon as an original work is created and copyright is said to be infringed if any of the rights of the copyright owner are taken away without their authorisation. 

Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957, provides for the infringement of copyright. It says that copyright is infringed when:

  • There is unauthorised engagement by any person in an action that is the exclusive right of the owner of the copyright.
  • Any person who allows for profit, a location where such copyrighted work could be distributed without authorisation.
  • Any person who sells, lets for hire, distributes or imports any infringing copies of work.

Remedies for Infringement of copyright

Two types of remedies are available to the owner of the copyright in case of infringement of copyright:

  • Civil remedies of injunction, damages, accounts, etc. are provided under Section 55(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957.
  • According to Section 63 of the Copyright Act, 1957, any person who infringes copyright is punishable with imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of fifty thousand rupees to two lakh rupees. 

Legal provisions relating to audiobooks

Audiobooks are audio recordings wherein the original text from a book is read word for word. As an intellectual property, it can be described as an adaptation of a literary work, and it falls under the purview of the Copyright Act, 1957. So, in order to create an audiobook, permission and authorisation have to be obtained from the owner of the copyright so that such an audiobook does not constitute an infringement of copyright. Therefore, acquiring a licence or entering into an agreement with the author or the publishing house of the literary work that grants the requisite rights is an essential step before creating an audiobook.

Legal provisions relating to audio summaries

Audio summaries are an abridgement or an excerpt of a literary work that describes the outline of the contents of the book and attempts to recount the essence of the work. So, audio summaries may be described as abridgements and adaptations of literary work as per the provisions of Section 2(a)(iii) of the Copyright Act, 1957. 

Since it falls under the purview of the Copyright Act, necessary authorizations are required before creating an audio summary, just like in the case of audiobooks, so that the public performance or distribution of such audio summaries does not constitute an infringement of copyright. Due to the possibility of varied interpretations of any literary work, it becomes more important for the copyright owners to authorise such audio summaries, because if any wrong interpretation of the work is to reach the public, it might affect the saleability of the work adversely.

Nevertheless, if such audio summaries were created for private or personal use, for criticism or review, or as a means of reporting current events, then it would not constitute an infringement of copyright, even if a licence for the same has not been obtained from the copyright owner. It is mentioned in Section 52(a) of the Copyright Act, 1957. 

Difference between audiobooks and audio summaries

Audiobooks and audio summaries are both formats for consuming written works, but there are some key legal differences between the two.

Copyright law

The main legal difference between audiobooks and audio summaries lies in their treatment under copyright law. Audiobooks are generally considered to be derivative works of the original written work, and they are therefore subject to the same copyright protection as the original work. This means that in order to create an audiobook, the producer must obtain permission from the copyright holder of the original work.

Audio summaries, on the other hand, are not considered to be derivative works. This is because they are not a complete retelling of the original work, but rather a condensed version that focuses on the main points. As a result, audio summaries are not subject to the same copyright protection as audiobooks, and they can be created without obtaining permission from the copyright holder of the original work.

Fair use

In addition to copyright law, the legal distinction between audiobooks and audio summaries is also affected by the fair use doctrine. The fair use doctrine allows limited use of copyrighted material without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. This means that it is possible to create an audio summary of a copyrighted work without infringing on the copyright, as long as the summary is fair and transformative.

To be considered fair use, an audio summary must meet the following criteria:

  • The summary must be used for a non-commercial purpose, such as education or research.
  • The summary must be a transformative work, meaning that it must add something new and original to the original work.
  • The summary must not adversely affect the market for the original work.

Leading case on legal tussle between audiobooks and audio summaries

The legal tussle between audio books and audio summaries was popularly observed in the leading case of Pocket FM Private Limited vs. Mebigo Labs Private Limited & Ors., instituted in May 2021 in the Delhi High Court. 

Facts of the case

The case mentioned above had the following key facts:

  • Pocket FM, which is an online platform that streams podcasts and audiobooks, was claiming to be the sole licensee of a renowned publishing house known as Manjul Publishing House. 
  • The licence allowed Pocket FM to create and broadcast audiobooks, which were the Hindi translations of literary works of which Manjul Publishing House was the copyright owner. 
  • Kuku FM, which is one of the competitor platforms of Pocket FM, had allegedly broadcast in their podcast the audio summaries of the books to which the latter had exclusive rights as per the agreement between Manjul Publishing House and Pocket FM. 
  • Later, an agreement was electronically signed between Kuku FM and the publishing house authorising the former to create and broadcast audio summaries in their podcast, but shortly after, Kuku FM was informed that since the audio rights of the script did not lie with the publishing house, the contract was void. However, Kuku FM broadcasted the audio summaries on their app.
  • In light of the above circumstances, a case had been instituted in the Delhi High Court by Pocket FM, alleging Kuku FM to have been infringing copyrights. 
  • The plaintiff, Pocket FM, had sought an ex parte injunction to restrain Kuku FM from “distributing, publishing, offering for sale, communicating to the public or broadcasting through any media or platform the novel ‘Main Teri Chandani’.”

Outcome of the case

Pocket FM and Kuku FM reached a settlement out of court. The case stemmed from an agreement between Kuku FM and Pocket FM, in which Kuku FM had agreed not to create or upload any audiobooks in the future without Pocket FM’s express permission. However, Kuku FM subsequently began to create and upload audio summaries of books, which Pocket FM alleged infringed on its exclusive licence.

In its ruling, the Delhi High Court agreed with Pocket FM’s arguments and found that Kuku FM’s audio summaries were indeed an infringement of copyright. The court noted that the audio summaries were substantially similar to the original audiobooks, and that they were likely to cause confusion among consumers.

The court also noted that Kuku FM’s actions were particularly egregious because they had been taken in violation of a binding agreement. The court held that Kuku FM’s actions constituted a willful and deliberate infringement of Pocket FM’s copyright.

As a result of the court’s ruling, Kuku FM was ordered to take down the audio summaries from its platform and to refrain from creating or uploading any audiobooks in the future without Pocket FM’s permission. The court also awarded Pocket FM damages for the infringement of its copyright.

The Delhi High Court’s ruling is a significant victory for Pocket FM and for the protection of copyright in India. The ruling sends a clear message that copyright infringement will not be tolerated and that those who infringe on copyright will be held liable for their actions.

This ruling is also significant because it highlights the importance of exclusive licences in the digital age. In an era where content is easily shared and distributed online, exclusive licences are essential for protecting the rights of content creators and ensuring that they are fairly compensated for their work.

Analysis of the case

When a literary work is created, the copyright for it lies with the author of the work. In India, such copyright need not be mandatorily registered according to the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957. Such ownership can be transferred by the owner at their discretion. In this case, the copyright of various literary works was with a publishing house, namely, Manjul Publishing House, who had entered into an agreement with Pocket FM to create audiobooks related to some of their literary work, making them their exclusive licensee. Then they had entered into another agreement with Kuku FM, who, on the basis of such an agreement, had created audio summaries and broadcast them on their platform. Shortly after, Kuku FM was informed by the publishing house that the agreement entered into between them was void since the rights over the audio did not lie with them. In spite of that, Kuku FM did not take down the audio summaries from their platform and sought the defence of the judgement of Madras High Court in the case E.M. Forster & Ors. vs. A.N. Parasuram  (1964), wherein the Hon’ble Court had ruled that even if an audio summary is the abridgement of a novel, it can be treated as his own creation if it serves as a guide book, and it will not come under the purview of copyright. However, there was no critical thinking involved in the audio summaries created by Kuku FM, and so they had to agree to take down the audio summaries. 


Audiobooks and audio summaries are both under the purview of copyright. Nonetheless, in the case of audio summaries, the law is a little vague as to what constitutes an infringement of copyright if created without a valid licence. In order to fall under the ambit of Section 52 of the Act, the audio summaries need to have critical thinking and analysis in addition to the abridgement of the original textbook.



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