The latest Bollywood blockbuster – Golmaal Returns – has been accused of infringing the copyright of a 1973 Hindi movie – Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar. The allegations have been raised by the widow of the director-producer Rajendra Bhatia. She has allegedly filed a complaint against the producers Golmaal Returns with the Indian Motions Pictures Producer’s Association. The director of Golmaal Returns has rubbished the claims and has pointed out to his track record of securing all the necessary permissions for his previous movies so as not to infringe the intellectual property rights of other IP owners. A newsreport quotes him as saying:
Shetty pointed out that the rights of a Gujarati stage play had been bought to make the first part of ‘Golmaal’; and that he went through all the legitimate channels to remake ‘Sunday’ from a Telugu film
Going on the offensive, Shetty states that Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar, may in itself, be an adaptation of a French play.
In Bollywood’s defense I think that many a time it is unfairly accused of copyright infringement. It bears repeating that copyright protects only the expression and not the idea. ‘Boy loves girl and girl turns out to be a boy’ is an idea which cannot be protected. It is only the expression of that idea that can be protected. However everytime a Bollywood director merely borrows an idea (not the expression of that idea) he is unfairly accused of copyright infringement. For example last year Sony wanted to sue the makers of Partner for infringing its copyright in Hitch. Eventually Sony dropped the suit because it did not have a case for copyright infringement. There is no doubt that both movies were based on the same idea but their expression of that idea was quite different. The same holds true for several other Bollywood movies unfairly accused of copyright infringement.
In other news the widow (once again!) of famous Hindi playwright and Padma Bhushan awardee Nirmal Verma has managed to prevent the performance of her husband’s play Teen Ekant by the Bombay Theatre Company since they did not secure her permission for the performance at NCPA, Mumbai. A copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author and thereafter for 60 years with his surviving relatives. In this case the widow, Ms. Gill, was completely within her legal rights when she insisted on the performers asking for her permission to perform the play. The BTC had earlier paid Ms. Gill for the performance of the play at two earlier venues but did not even bother to ask her for permission this time around. Instead actor Jagdish Rajpurohit of BTC, has been quoted by DNA, as accusing Ms. Gill of ‘falling into the hands of Shylock’ and wanting to ‘extract money’. Since when has it become a crime for a widow to ask for what is legally hers? If you ask me, Ms. Gill should slap a defamation suit against Mr. Jagdish Rajpurohit for that comment of his. If the BTC is still interested in performing the play so as to honour Nirmal Verma they maybe able to make use of the fair-use exception under S. 52(1)(l) of the Copyright Act, which allows for the performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work by an amateur club or society, if the performance is given to a non-paying audience, or for the benefit of a religious institution. The performance however will have to be for a non-paying audience unless it is for a religious institution in which case the proceeds from ticket sales will have to be donated to the religious institution.
However I wonder what would happen if the play in question is sponsored because of which no tickets are sold – would Section 52(1)(l) still apply? Comments anybody?