(Picture taken from here)
The regular readers of Spicy IP will undoubted be aware of the numerous controversies involving various rights associated with the so-called ‘remakes’ of popular movies in Bollywood. Allegations regarding unauthorized ‘borrowing’ of movie scripts, plots, scenes or music compositions have cropped up a dime a dozen in the recent times, often starting as lawsuits against the producer/director of the new movies that have culminated in out-of-court settlements. (For prior examples of different categories, see here, here and here). Script battles with regard to copyright are also legion in terms of numbers. However, not least contentious is the issue whether a remake, while seeking to ‘improve’ upon the original version of the movie and at the same trying to capitalize upon the latter’s popularity, ends up infringing the moral rights of the author of the script. This matter has once again come to the forefront courtesy to one of the all-time great writers in Bollywood, Javed Akhtar, who had once come up with the script of one of the biggest Bollywood hits Zanjeer.
Recently, plans have been aired of remaking Zanjeer by the Amit Mehra, the son of the director-producer Prakash Mehra, who’d come up with the original version. However, while Mehra would not have had any difficulty in obtaining rights over scripts etc., what irks Akhtar is the fact that his permission as the writer had never even been sought, nor was he even notified of the fact that somebody now wishes to modify what he’d once gone to great lengths to create. That is something which he feels should not be allowed to happen.
A long-time campaigner for according rights to the authors for their creation, Akhtar refers to the provision on moral rights of the creator as envisaged by the current Copyright Act, 1957 (for a detailed discussion on the moral rights under this Act, see here). According to him, such right can neither be transferred nor be stolen from the author and even if a person obtains subsequent rights over a script, in order to make any change, author’s permission must be sought. After all, he reasons, one can very well buy a masterpiece of M.F. Hussain and keep it in his house, but that doesn’t give him the right to make changes to the painting!
Akhtar seems to be eagerly looking forward to the upcoming Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2010 (for a discussion on the amendments sought to be introduced, see here), which seeks to provide independent rights to creators of literary and musical works in cinematographic films, entitling them to royalty that was denied to them so far. This Bill, according to him, should address some of the problems that the writers in this country have always faced vis-a-vis their creative rights. He’s also bothered about the perception of lyricists in general, alleging that they seldom get the respect they deserve and their performances have traditionally been judged on a completely wrong set of parameters.
One hopes that the Bill, once it comes into effect, will seek to put at least some of the debates surrounding the film industry at rest, providing all the contributors with their deserving rights and leading to an overall improvement in the copyright scenario in India.