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August 9, 2023

Court Case Bulletin (CCB): Screenplay In Respect Of which A Cinematographic Work Is Made Constitutes An Independent Literary Work

Author: Anurathna Mathivanan

In the matter of RDB and Co. HUF v. HarperCollins Publishers India Private Limited [CS (COMM) 246/2021] Single Judge [Hari Shankar, J.] of the High Court of Delhi vide judgement dated May 23, 2023, ruling in favour of the Defendant in a copyright infringement suit, held that screenplay of a film is a separate literary work.

Section 13(4) in the Copyright Act, 1957 states “(4) The copyright in a cinematograph film or a sound recording shall not affect the separate copyright in any work in respect of which ora substantial part of which, the film, or, as the case may be, the sound recording is made” [Empasis supplied]. The question considered by the Court was, whether a screenplay of a film can enjoy copyright as a separate work in respect of which a film is made, de hors the copyright held in the film?

The Plaintiff-HUF submitted that the Producer, R.D. Bansal (the Karta of the Plaintiff-HUF), had commissioned Satyajit Raj to write the screenplay of and direct the film ‘Nayak’. The Plaintiff contended that the risk of commercial failure of the film was taken by the Producer to assert that the Producer was the first owner of all direct, indirect, derivative and related rights with respect to the film. The Plaintiff argued that the Defendant’s novelization of the screenplay, upon receiving a license from the heir of Satyajit Ray’s estate, would amount to infringement of the Plaintiff’s copyright. The Defendant, on the other hand, argued that the script and screenplay in respect of which the film was made, is a separate work distinct from the film- the rights of which are owned by Satyajit Ray. The Defendant argued that the Producer, therefore, has no copyright over the underlying works. It was further submitted that the right to novelize the underlying work in a film is a right which is independent of the copyright held in the film itself.

The Court affirmed the arguments placed by the Defendant and held that the copyright over the cinematographic work does not extend to the separate copyright which exists in the screenplay of the film. The Court observed that “Given the ambit of…“literary work”…the screenplay of the film Nayak is unquestionably a “literary work”… Per sequitur, by operation of Section 13(4), the copyright in the screenplay, as a “literary work”…cannot be affected by the separate copyright in the cinematograph film itself…”

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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