(This post has been authored by and published on behalf of Sreyoshi Guha)
In what can be termed as a rather “spicy” development, Indian film maker Ram Gopal Varma – well known for films such as Aag, Sarkar, etc. has been slapped with a copyright infringement suit, before the City Civil Court, Hyderabad. The controversy is centered on his up-coming movie, “God, Sex And Truth” starring American Adult Film Star, Mia Malkova.
Before we get into the specifics of the dispute, some context: The movie, which is slated for distribution over the internet, has been titled as a “A Philosophical Treatise of Mia Malkova” – who, as I mentioned earlier, is an American Adult Film Star. The official trailer of the movie was released only a few days ago on Youtube, and can be viewed here. Reports have quoted Mr. Varma as saying that the movie is about a “revolutionary sexual philosophy” and also “telling the truth behind sex, as intended by God”. A viewing of the trailer, coupled with the aforementioned title, suggests that the movie attempts a more mature depiction of sexual awareness and exploration. (Emphasis mine. For a few quick, interesting responses to this attempted depiction has received quite the criticism, see here, here and here).
According to reports, the movie and its makers have become embroiled in quite a load of trouble right from the release of this trailer. Apart from this present lawsuit, they are currently facing another, more predictable lawsuit, alleging obscenity. Reports also note that several women’s groups across Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam have been protesting the release of the movie, and demanding its takedown.
While the moral aspects of bold content such as this have always been at the center of controversy (and I’m sure will be debated over and over again over the course of the next few weeks) in India, it’s the present dispute that is of more interest to us. It appears that P Jayakumar (hereinafter, plaintiff), notable as the scriptwriter of Sarkar 3 (another film to the credit of Mr. Ram Gopal Varma) has alleged, by way of this present suit, copyright infringement of the script of the movie. SpicyIP received exclusive information of the same, along with the plaint – which we have uploaded on our archives for our viewers and which can be viewed here.
According to the plaint, and as per the plaintiff’s account, the alleged timeline runs thus: Way back in 2015, the plaintiff originally developed a unique concept note, which was based on “enhancing the sensuality of women’s beauty” (para 2 of the plaint). He also wrote an initial draft of a script based on this theme and concept note. He, then, shared his ideas and this script with Mr. Varma via email, expressing his interest in developing this literary work into a film. Following this, an electronic correspondence was initiated between the two – by of which, Mr. Varma suggested changes to the script and requested the plaintiff to circulate a final draft. In June 2016, the plaintiff sent out a final draft of this original script, titled “The Beauty of Passion” – based, as above, on the “theme of respecting and giving due credit to the sensuality of the women’s beauty.” (para 2). The plaintiff goes on to allege that Mr. Varma had assured the plaintiff that he would be informed of the production of the movie, as and when it took place. However, this never happened – and on 16th January, 2018, to the plaintiff’s surprise, the trailer of “God, Sex And Truth” was released – which, according to him, is based on a script that is substantially similar to the aforementioned, original script written by him.
Notable aspects of the Plaint &Things to Watch Out For
The plaintiff, by way of this plaint, has prayed for injunctive relief as well as damages to the tune of Rs. 5 Lakhs. While most of the plaint is quite ordinary in terms of the cause of action made out, reliefs prayed for, and the statutory rights sought to be protected, there are some aspects of the plaint that are worth noting. If the dispute sticks out at the judiciary, or in other words, if it is not settled anytime soon and actually gets to the point where the Court has to decide it on merits, then there are some things to watch out for – even if, purely in the interest of academic speculation:
The plaint, at Paragraph 4, sets out a tabular representation of the similarities between some of the dialogues from the plaintiff’s original script and most of the dialogues from the trailer of ‘God, Sex And Truth’, as released on Youtube. Notably, this is a rare instance of the use of some rather explicit language during legal proceedings, i.e. the dialogues from the two scripts involve the use of language that is informal, and explicit, and have been left as is, in their tabular comparison. As such, the treatment of the same by the lower judiciary, will be interesting to see – especially in dealing with scripts, or literary works that are bolder than usual.
At Para 12, the plaint alleges the that the defendants have “distorted and mutilated” the plaintiff’s literary works – amounting to an infringement of moral rights of the plaintiff. This will be interesting, i.e. to see what “mutilation” and “distortion” are interpreted as, in the present context. This is especially so, since both the scripts are, at least as far as I can gather, about women’s exploration of sexuality, and both appear to be quite explicit in the depiction of the same. In a country such as ours, that has quite a rocky history with sexually explicit content, this determination – at least in the context of copyright law – will be notable. (For a primer on moral rights, see out archives here.)
This is also true in view of the discussion we have had in the past, of the link between “immoral” or “objectionable” content and copyright law. In June, last year, we had the privilege of hosting a rather thought-provoking guest post by Justice Gautam Patel on content legitimacy and copyright. By way of his post, Justice Patel attempted to explore whether content that is “illegal” or “obscene” or “unlawful” can qualify for copyright protection. In response to this, we had another guest post by Prof. Josh Sarnoff who argued that the question of whether copyright law is content neutral or not is dependent on the existing constitutional and prevailing legislative framework of the legal system in question. Apart from this, we have had much discussion on the blog on “illegal” or “unlawful” subject matter and their protectability by way of Intellectual Property Rights – see here, here and here. As such, a judicial revival of this debate and discussion would be significant.
In any case, we must wait and watch. This is especially true for the rest of the case brought forth by the plaintiffs – specifically the charges of copyright infringement – for which there is too little information for any speculation to be conducted, as of yet.
P.s. I have also tried to look up the case on the District Court website, for details of the case (case number: OS No. 60 of 2018), such as next date, etc. However, the page refuses to open up for me, so I urge our readers to forward any information that you may have on the same.