With the emergence of Drone Amendment Rules, 2022, there are concerns to be shared on the grounds of Artificial Intelligence in accordance with technology, privacy and intellectual property rights. The new rules[1] interpret that remote pilot certificates are no longer necessary to own and fly drones weighing up to 2kg for non-commercial purposes. Thus, a layman who is unaware of laws surrounding drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can still own and fly drones. Although there are numerous concerns regarding UAVs, the ambiguity in ownership and authorship of the UAVs is always under the purview of doubt.

Authorship and Ownership under the Copyright Act, 1957

The rules under the Practice and Procedure Manual (2018) issued by the Copyright Office interpret that only natural persons (humans) shall be considered as “Author(s)“.[2] Similarly, in the case of Rupendra Kashyap Vs. Jiwan Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.[3], the High Court of Delhi examined the idea of a natural person and an artificial person to conclude that an author can never be an institution as it comprises a natural person to create the work. Thus, the copyright can only be granted in the name of creators who are human unless there is a well-drafted contract to specify the copyright author.

Section 17 of the Act makes it clear that the author of the work shall be the first owner of the copyright, although there are exceptions of prior contract mentioning otherwise. A drone services company or individual who works to collect drone-captured photographs, sound recordings, or footage are the first owner and author of the drone. However, these companies have the right to assign[4] the copyright of the work to any individual who can also be a customer. As a result, the first owner renounces their potential copyright claims such as copyright infringement and privacy rights. In addition, moral rights can also be transferred provided that there needs to be an exclusive agreement for that; otherwise, the moral rights naturally stays with the company itself.

Can Drones be recognised as a distinct entity to get copyright?

Drones are often of two types. They can either be unmanned-aerial devices that are manually driven and can be remotely controlled by any individual, or they can work as automated artificial intelligence services to perform several operations.

It is considered that there is always creativity input by a natural person rather than an artificial element, i.e., human interference. Despite the lack of human interference or assistance, the acknowledgement of the programmer who created the artificial identity with the correct programming cannot be denied. Henceforth, the title of Author is generally given to a natural person. In the case of drones, the author is the company or the independent contractor.

In the case of a company, the drone pilot (employee) is presumed to be the owner, but that is not the reality. Here, the company, i.e., the true owner of the company, is/are the author and first owner of the drone. In case the drone pilot is an independent contractor, then the pilot is the author and first owner of the drone.

It is also argued that the creation and further development of the work are two separate things, and the grant of copyright has to be judged by analyzing the program. It is unambiguous to say that some artificial intelligence systems depend upon the programme to get modified. However, the original information through the programming is a creation of a natural person. Hence, it denies the contention that an artificial system can produce original work without human interference.

Problems faced

There are numerous concerns other than deciding authorship or ownership of the drone work. This includes the moral (or paternity) rights and right to integrity subsisting under Section 57, which are also important rights provided to the author. In the case where an automated drone is given authorship, it will lack to determine its moral rights due to a lack of human instincts and sentiments regarding its goodwill and reputation. In addition, the author’s right to claim royalty is an obligation that cannot be waived. However, the uncertainty in terms of grounds and rationale on which the drone would determine the royalty is another issue with a grant of copyright to the same.

After all the implications, a device named “Raghav”, a painting app, has been registered as co-author with the other two authors. It was stated that the application for authorship was only accepted on the criteria that it is a “co-authorship” where the other authors are natural persons. This case led to an official recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s Report to revisit IPR with AI legislation and jurisprudence. The Committee relied on a 2021 study that stated that by 2035, a surge in AI-related advancements will be witnessed by India itself, which might add USD 957 billion to the country’s economy.[5] The report mainly focused on the need for considering “a distinct category” for the grant of IPR to an AI. However, all these stats and reports fail to provide detailed suggestions to fill the loopholes or archaic ambiguity of laws.

Suggestion and Conclusion: There are always contentions surrounding the uncertainty about the rationale of judgment and responsibility of automated systems due to many failed systems where the threat was not foreseen. One such instance was in the case of an Uber self-driving car that killed a woman in the USA. There was no legal action taken as parties opted for a settlement. Still, the question of whether autonomous systems are a legally responsible entity or not for their actions remains intact.

However, there can be some suggestions implemented and executed to fill the gaps regarding the lack of legislation and jurisprudence on this issue. Firstly, if there is any need to provide Authorship to automated drones, then legislation should identify them under a separate category of works. Secondly, the owner of the drone must be a natural person, i.e., a human who shall be responsible and liable for the acts of the automated drone and its creative work. The author, in this case, shall be the company or the customer. In case if the legislators decide to grant authorship and ownership rights solely to the company or customer (when transferred), their right to sell and disseminate photographs, footage etc. which are captured by the drones, are protected by the Copyright Act.

Henceforth, defining rights and limitations are predominant in determining authorship and ownership of automated drones.


[1] Drone (Amendment) Rules, 2022, https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2022/233331.pdf.

[2] Col. 7, Practice and Procedure Manual (2018).

[3] 1994 (28) DRJ 286.

[4] Section 18 of the Copyright Act, 1957.

[5] https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-153/Accenture-AI-For-Economic-Growth-India.pdf#zoom=50.

Disclaimer: The present article intends to provide general guidance on the subject, and you can also consult us in your specific case.