Spicy IP Tidbit: Rajinikanth’s ‘Lingaa’ in Copyright Trouble

The first poster of the film
The first poster of the film

Rajinikanth-starrer ‘Lingaa’ which hits the theatres on 12th December has run into legal trouble ahead of its release. An aspiring film maker, K.R. Ravi Rathinam, filed a case in the Madras High Court (Madurai Bench) alleging that the director of ‘Lingaa’ stole his script.

The petitioner alleged that the script is from his yet-to-be-released Tamil film titled ‘Mulai Vanam 999’; the petitioner claimed that the story is based on the life of a British engineer who was the brain behind the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam and that the petitioner had uploaded the entire story on YouTube on Feb 24, 2013. The respondents have rubbished his claims stating that one cannot claim copyright infringement for a work that is unpublished; the director of Lingaa maintains that this is just a tactic on the part of the petitioner to harass the film producers.

According to Ravi Kumar, the director of Lingaa, “How can someone claim copyright of a story which is unpublished? The YouTube video doesn’t constitute the publication of the petitioner’s story.”

In a counter-affidavit, Rajinikanth said that the case filed by the petitioner had tarnished the image enjoyed by the actor. He also added that that there were many stories based on the nationalization of rivers and it would be wrong for the petitioner to claim copyright over such a topic. Rajinikanth also stated that a copyright case can be filed only if there are a minimum of 13 continuous shots in a feature film that are similar to the other story that is claimed to be authored by the petitioner.

For now, Justice M. Venugopal has reserved his order on the petitioner’s plea to stay the release of the film.

The case brings up quite a few interesting issues: for instance, does a YouTube video of an unreleased film constitute publication? According to me, if the said YouTube video indeed exists and there has been substantial copying of the story, this would be sufficient to constitute copyright infringement.

I also wonder how Rajinikanth arrived at ‘13’ as the magic number for determining copyright infringement.

The Court would undoubtedly apply the scène à faire doctrine for determining whether it is the theme of the two films which is identical or the storyline. In the former case, there is no copyright infringement because as rightly pointed out by the actor a theme cannot be copyrighted; but where it the storyline that has been copied, it would invariably amount to copyright infringement.


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