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The Application and Influence of Copyright Law on Film Industry

The Application and Influence of Copyright Law on Film Industry


The concept of copyright has assumed significance in the cases of contemporary issues like scientific, social, economic, and legal, not only in India but all around the world. the enrichment of cultural heritage is directly dependent on the level of protection being awarded to the works of literature, drama, music, cinematography films, and recordings. Copyright is one of the essential elements in the development process of cultural heritage. The number of countries intellectual creations is directly proportional to the level of protection afforded to the authors to create. the copyright lot does not only protect the rights of copyright owners but also deals with the public interest and afflicts balance between these two in the digital environment. The Indian Copyright Act of 1847 is one of the earliest statutory laws in India which was enacted during the regime of the East India Company. In 1911 Copyright Act was enacted again repealing all of the statutes on the subject which are available in all British colonies like India. After some modifications, the Indian Copyright Act has enacted in the year 1914 it. It remained applicable in India until it was replaced by the Copyright Act 1957. 


All laws pertaining to copyrights in India are governed by the Indian Copyright Act 1957. There are TWO major goals of this legislation- 

  1. To guarantee rights to creative interpretation of authors musicians, painters, and other creative individuals.
  2. Enable others to openly develop upon the concepts and knowledge made available by a work.

The Indian Copyright Act, 1957 has been through six amendments since our independence. The recent amendment was passed in the year 2012. The concept of copyrights in India is governed by the Copyrights (Amendment) Act, 2012 and the Indian Copyright rules, 1958 (Rules).


Films are a huge part of Indian households, and the Indian Film Industry has become a global enterprise in recent years by producing the highest number of films. According to the Indian Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012, “Cinematograph film” is described as any work of a visual and sound recording that shall be accompanied by any work produced by any process similar to cinematography like video films. Section 2 (xxa) of the copyright act defines the expression “visual recording” which means any recording by any medium or any method. It also includes the storing of the said content by any electronic means from which they can be perceived, reproduced and communicated by any method.


When it comes to the copyrights of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, the copyright act stipulates that such creative work must be “original” to qualify for the protection of copyright. It is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the act about the “originality” of the film. But according to section 13 (3) (a) copyright act 1975, the copyright cannot be protected if a substantial part of the film is an infringement of the copyright of any other work.

In the case, MRF Ltd. v. Metro Tyres Ltd. it was held under Sec 13 of the Act, a film must be an “original work” in order to be granted a copyright. To create a film that is a copy of the original film without the owner’s permission is an infringement of the copyright.


An owner is considered to be a person who has spent money towards the production of the film. By “spending money” it doesn’t just mean the arrangement of funds, it also includes the risk of commercial failure, i.e., the person or people who will lose money in case the film fails to perform at the box office. In the case of Ramesh Sippy v. Shaan Ranjit Uttam Singh, the court held that for any person who has funded the project and took the risk of making the work, that person is the owner of the copyright. 

After the amendment in 2012, things have changed. Now, the rights of authors of original literary, drama, music and artistic works which play a huge role in a cinematograph film, their rights shall be unaffected. This implies that even if ab cinematograph film is made at the instance of a film producer, the rights of authors of the creative underlying works would remain unaffected.


We must have come across many films which were remakes of old classics like Don and Zanjeer and use the same title as the old films. These movies are usually called “Mockbusters” as they are trying to cash in the popularity of a former hit. In cases like this, the producer would want to protect their film titles to avoid tricky scenarios and legal battles. Film titles are also protected under the provisions of the Act including the fundamental works of the film.

Copyright of a film title puts the owner in a tricky position as most titles are common words or phrases which are used in everyday life. They are not termed “original literary works” per se. In the case of Krishika Lulla and Ors. V. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta and Ors., the Supreme Court has examined the copyrightability of film titles. The court held, “The mere use of common words, such as those used here, cannot qualify for being described as ‘literary’. The title in question cannot, therefore, be a ‘literary work’ and, hence, no copyright can be said to subsist in it, vide Section 13; nor can a criminal complaint for infringement be said to be tenable on such basis.” 

Additionally, it should be noted that under Section 44 of the Act, names or titles of works protected by copyright as well as other details about the creators, publishers, and owners of copyright should be kept in a register known as a “Register of Copyrights,” which is kept in the format that has been approved. One could suppose that this would suggest that the title would be protected by the copyright act; however, section 44 of that law only concerns the registration of works that are copyright protected; it does not make any provisions for the protection of the title itself. This is due to the fact that just because a title is registered in the register of copyrights, it does not make it immediately protected.

Thereby, it is safe to assume that in a claim for a film title, the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1957, specifically the Sections of infringement, Section 51 (When copyright infringed), Section 55 (Civil remedies for infringement of copyright), and Section 58 (Rights of the owner against persons possessing or dealing with infringing copies), would not be attracted in case of use of an existing film title since the “work” mentioned under Sections 13 and 14 of the Copyright Act 1957 as a film title is not included as a part of the film.


The Copyright Act, 1957 protects the copyrights of films that are published. “Publication defined under the Copyright Act, 1957 which means to make a work available to the public at large by the issue of copies or communication of work to the public. In India, the Copyright Act, 1957 protects the copyright of a film for sixty years since it was published. The act remains silent about the unpublished films. Although, provisions for the protection of copyrights for an unpublished film are mentioned under Section 13 (2) (ii) of the Copyright Act, 1957, a specific term for the protection of unpublished films is not mentioned.


Shree Venkatesh Films Pvt. Ltd vs Vipul Amrutlal Shah & Ors 

The Calcutta High Court observed that where there is an alleged substantial similarity in the film taken as a whole with another film, there is an infringement of the copyright in the film. Section 14(d) of the Act states that infringement of copyright of a film would take place by its copying where the physical film or any electronic form of it is ‘carbon copied or replicated’. However, the court held that the word ‘copy’ must be given a broad meaning and that a scene-by-scene comparison of the two films has been done and prima facie held that the Bengali film “ Poran Jaye Joliya Rae” is substantial if not a verbatim, copy of the Hindi film “Namastey London” as a whole. Thus, the hon’ble court restrained the appellant from adapting or copying the Hindi movie into any regional language.

Mansoob Haider v. Yashraj Films

In this case, the plaintiff, Mansoob Haider sued the defendant Yash Raj Films that they copied the script of “ONCE”, written by Mansoob and made Dhoom 3. Plaintiff sought an order asking for credit in the titles of the film and an injunction against the release. The court held that the identity between the two works or scripts must be substantial, and the appropriation must be of a substantial or material part of the protected work. Infringement occurs when the defendant’s work is a transparent reproduction of the plaintiff’s protected work. In the above case, the plot of Dhoom 3 and ONCE is entirely different therefore, it cannot possibly be said to be a copy. 


In conclusion, copyright law has had a profound effect on the film industry in India. The law has helped to protect the rights of filmmakers, actors, and other stakeholders, while also promoting creativity and innovation. It has also provided a framework for the legitimization and monetization of films, allowing them to be released and distributed on a global scale. The application of copyright law has had a positive overall effect on the Indian film industry, resulting in increased revenues and greater opportunities for the industry. The Indian Copyright Act, 1957, is the primary piece of legislation governing copyright law in India and provides for a comprehensive system for the protection of copyright. It is hoped that this law will continue to develop in order to ensure the protection of filmmakers’ rights and facilitate the growth of the Indian film industry.

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