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DIT vs. Infrasoft Ltd (Delhi High Court)
November, 26th 2013

Non-exclusive & non-transferable license to use customized software not taxable as “royalty” under Article 12 of India-USA DTAA

The assessee, a USA company, set up a branch office in India for the supply of software called “MX”. The software was customized for the requirements of the customer (not “shrink wrap”). The Indian branch imported the software package in the form of floppy disks or CDs and delivered it to the customer. It also installed the software and trained the customers. The AO & CIT(A) held that the software was a “copyright” and the income from its license was assessable as “royalty” under Article 12 of the India-USA DTAA. On appeal by the assessee, the Tribunal held, following Motorola 270 ITR (AT) (SB) 62, that the income from license of software was not taxable as “royalty”. Before the High Court, the Department argued that in view of CIT vs. Samsung Electronics 345 ITR 494 (Kar), the right to make a copy of the software and storing it amounted to copyright work u/s 14(1) of the Copyright Act and payment made for the grant of a license for the said purpose would constitute royalty. HELD by the High Court dismissing the appeal:

In order to qualify as a royalty payment under Article 12(3) of the India-USA DTAA, it is necessary to establish that there is a transfer of all or any rights (including the granting of any licence) in respect of a copyright of a literary, artistic or scientific work. There is a clear distinction between royalty paid on transfer of copyright rights and consideration for transfer of copyrighted articles. Right to use a copyrighted article or product with the owner retaining his copyright, is not the same thing as transferring or assigning rights in relation to the copyright. The enjoyment of some or all the rights which the copyright owner has, is necessary to invoke the royalty definition. Viewed from this angle, a non-exclusive and non-transferable licence enabling the use of a copyrighted product cannot be construed as an authority to enjoy any or all of the enumerated rights ingrained in Article 12 of DTAA. Where the purpose of the licence or the transaction is only to restrict use of the copyrighted product for internal business purpose, it would not be legally correct to state that the copyright itself or right to use copyright has been transferred to any extent. The parting of intellectual property rights inherent in and attached to the software product in favour of the licensee/customer is what is contemplated by the Treaty. Merely authorizing or enabling a customer to have the benefit of data or instructions contained therein without any further right to deal with them independently does not, amount to transfer of rights in relation to copyright or conferment of the right of using the copyright. The transfer of rights in or over copyright or the conferment of the right of use of copyright implies that the transferee/licensee should acquire rights either in entirety or partially co-extensive with the owner/ transferor who divests himself of the rights he possesses pro tanto. The license granted to the licensee permitting him to download the computer programme and storing it in the computer for his own use is only incidental to the facility extended to the licensee to make use of the copyrighted product for his internal business purpose. The said process is necessary to make the programme functional and to have access to it and is qualitatively different from the right contemplated by Article 12 because it is only integral to the use of copyrighted product. Apart from such incidental facility, the licensee has no right to deal with the product just as the owner would be in a position to do. Consequently there is no transfer of any right in respect of copyright by the assessee and it is a case of mere transfer of a copyrighted article. The payment is for a copyrighted article and represents the purchase price of an article and cannot be considered as royalty either under the Income-tax Act or under the DTAA (Ericson AB 343 ITR 370 (Del) & Nokia Networks OY 25 225 followed; Samsung Electronics 345 ITR 494 (Kar) not followed)

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