Both Hindi cinema and theatre are accused of copyright infringement by relatives of dead authors

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? 


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6 thoughts on “Both Hindi cinema and theatre are accused of copyright infringement by relatives of dead authors”

  1. The issue which you have raised is indeed a gray area.However if we go by the specific wordings of the act “… performance… by an amateur club or society“.

    We need to consider whether the performers are paid by the sponsor (if not by the audience) in case of a sponsored performance. In case the actors are paid , it is clear the sponsor is picking up the tab on behalf of the audience and has to be considered as a paid audience.

  2. Going by the language of the section,the essental elements to be satisfied would be performance, amateur club/society and non-paying audience( reli. institution)

    While the 1st and the last terms seem unambiguous, the question would be… the nature of the group- being amateur or professional..

    IMO… if the sponsorship curtails itself to making arrangements/paying up (and decisions in the regard left to the theatre group completely) for the play.. ie. costumes/venue etc. then it may still qualify the fair use provision, but if a payment is made to the actors/group for the performance and as to what is performed therein … it may not… because in some way they become contractually bound to the sponsor…Am foggy on this though!

    The analogy that is working in my mind is a college theatre competition/event sponsered by a company may fall under fair use provision; but a theatre performance’/group for a company or its clients/affliates… wd it fall under fair use?

    I think the end receiver may also help decide.. where the audience is undetermined.. perhaps fair use will operate… but if it is determinate.. by invitee list etc.. am not sure..

    P.S.: I may be completely wrong… but good question Prashant!!!!

  3. on the “scenes-a-faire” doctrine, i think the question is more of how much is too much right? i get that standard themes, like the one you’ve mentioned, are but ideas and its the expressions that matter as far as infringement is concerned. so i know on technical grounds maybe a suit for infringement doesn’t stand under Indian law but if you watch some of these movies and have an instant recall of the original work it’s based on, i would think the substantial similarity test is satisfied. but that’s just me.

  4. @ Abhijit – Sorry for the delay in responding. Very relevant points.

    @ Divs – I think you’ve demarcated the issues brilliantly.

    The nature of the event definitely has to be looked into. If its a big company sponsoring an amateur theatre group to perform exclusively for their employees then ideally it should not fall under the exception. However if the company is sponsoring the theatre group of a non-profit institution for a performance to the general public then it maybe possible to use this exception.

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  6. Jagdish Rajpurohit

    I was surprised to read my name being misquoted completely here and even the issue being tqisted to suit the reporters own point of view.

    Whenever a play is staged , writers permission is sought ONCE and based on this permission censor certificate issued. Thereafter whenever a show is performed , the theare grops pays to the authoer a royalty ( which is fixed ONE time ). Payment is always done AFTER the show. These facts can be verified by any theatre group which has shows.

    There is a distinction between Amatuer groups and Professional groups. BTC is a amatuer group as it does nt pay actors or crew and the basic purpose is to do theatre for non-commercial reasons.However despite the same BTC agreed to pay Rs 5000 per show ( in comparision to Rs 100 – 200 paid by any other group for Hindi theatre ) .

    Mrs Gill despite having agreed to all of these conditions , went back on her own word and wrote a letter to NCPA demanding Rs 50,000 or obstructing the show. If this is not “extracting money” in the name of a luminary like Nirmal verma and acting as Shylock then what is ?

    As regards the reporter suggesting that a demantaion suit be ” slapped ” against me , I would suggest him / her to first verify facts before shooting from the mouth and saying such silly things.Its amazing that you spent time to write on a simple amatuer hindi theatre group but wont have the guts to mention stuff against real culprits who go about committing wrongs against small groups.

    U sure amaze me ! anyways , all the best with your banter .

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