The who’s who of Bollywood have been constantly demanding stricter laws and heavier punishments for copyright infringement. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that supporting piracy is akin to supporting terrorism. The Bhai of Bollywood, Salman Khan, himself no stranger to criminal justice system, suggested imposition of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, against those who indulged in piracy (with TADA no longer in force, I am not sure what he meant)! Now in a bit of a U-turn, Rakesh Roshan has demanded that the filing of copyright law suits be made more difficult to prevent its misuse. His statement came in the background of an FIR being lodged by a Dehradun based writer, who alleged that Krrish-3 had infringed some portions of his novel.
Without outrightly rejecting Mr. Roshan’s call to put a heavier burden on those who want to initiate legal action, let us examine each of his arguments. One of the primary contentions he raises is that the writers who are interested in protecting their stories should get them registered with writers’ association and the association should act as the arbiter of disputes. While this is a reasonable argument to make, given the exigencies of the situation that these writers often find themselves in, it is not feasible to have a solitary recourse. For instance, given that the dispute settlement body of writers’ association is primarily an informal body and the forum is only open to the members, an exclusion of other remedies is neither practical nor advisable. As regards the contention that tougher scrutiny should be done in case of admitting a copyright suit, I disagree. There are enough safeguards within the Copyright Act, 1957, which should keep the frivolous litigants away. For instance, S.60 of the Act provides that in case of a threat of legal proceedings for copyright infringement without sufficient grounds, the person aggrieved by such a threat may file a declaratory suit for negating the threat and also claim for injunction and damages. Even otherwise, courts have the discretion to impose costs on such baseless claims, as evidenced in this post by Prateek.
One more interesting issue raised by this statement is whether the parties have to go through the entire course of legal proceedings once an FIR is lodged under S.63 of the Act (or for that matter, any offence made out under the Act) given that the Act does not provide for compounding of offences under it? Even S.320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which deals with compounding of offences, is only in relation to Indian Penal Code offences and does not provide for compounding of offences falling under other statutes. The available avenue, which can enable the premature termination of the proceedings even if the alleged offence is non-compoundable, is to get the FIR quashed under S.482 of CrPC. If it can be shown that the initiation of criminal proceedings is nothing but a mere abuse of the process of law, High Court has the power to quash it under S.482 (for instance, see this). Also, it is not unusual for parties to enter into a compromise deed in copyright matters and get the FIR quashed.
In conclusion, I am of the view that there are enough options available for the film makers to thwart frivolous claims. For Bollywood to insist on a regime that dances to its tunes when need be, is simply untenable.
Image from here