Recently Hon’ble Kerala High Court in (Sanjeev Pillai v. Venu Kunnapalli 2019 SCC Online Ker 5338, decided on 11-12-2019 has held that an Author has the legal right to protect his Intellectual Property even after he has sold his rights while also directing the trial court to take all endeavor to dispose of the case within six months.
In the said case, the appellant is a film director and a scriptwriter, who claims to have researched the history of a grand ancient festival ‘Mamankam’ (a grand festival which used to be held once in 12 years on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river in Kerala during the 14th to 19th century). The Appellant, Sajeev Pillai, a film director and a script writer, claims to have researched the history of Mamankam and to have written a script for the film. Claimed to be his dream project, Pillai interacted with Venu Kunnapalli, the first Respondent while searching for a producer to make a film based on the script. Thereafter, he signed a MoU with Kavya Film Company which was associated with Kunnapalli. Though Pillai was appointed as the director but after completion of two shooting schedules, his services were terminated and he was replaced by someone else. The shooting of the film was completed thereafter. Sajeev Pillai alleged the script was mutilated, distorted and modified, therefore, he filed a civil suit seeking various reliefs. An interim injunction application was also instituted to restrain the respondents from releasing, publishing, distributing or exploiting the film’ Mamankam’ and issuing pre-release publicity without providing adequate authorship credits to Pillai as per film industry standards. The District Judge denied the interim injunction application triggering Pillai to appeal before the Kerala High Court. The order in the appeal was rendered a day before the slated release of the movie.
In the appeal, the respondents took the stand that Sajeev Pillai had assigned his work which includes the story, script, screenplay and dialogue to the respondents for a sale consideration of Rs 3 Lakh and so he is neither entitled to get the credit of the film regarding story or screen play nor entitled to get the restrain order for the release of such a big-budget film.
In deciding the issues, the Court analysed the Copyright Act, 1957 and emphasized on Section 2(d) which gives the definition of word ‘author’, Section 18 which explains ‘assignment of copyright’ and Section 57(1) of the Act which prescribes that even after assignment of the copyright in a work, the author of a work will have special rights to claim the authorship of the work.
The Court further observed that according to Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, rights of the author is always protected as it places the author in an elevated position and copyright being a form of the intellectual property gives rights to the creators for their work. The Court further added that it is doubtless that the author of the work is the creator of literary art and it is his idea developed as a screenplay to make the movie. So here the appellant is the rightful owner of the script. However, the Court had to balance the appellant’s concern that the film is made by damaging his original script, with the respondents’ unease regarding the imminent release date of the film. In the present case, the Kerala High Court, referred to the relevant sections of the Copyright Act, 1957. Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 states the Author’s special right. The High Court in its judgment stated that,
“What is enshrined in Section 57(1) (a) of the Copy Right Act is that even if the copyright has been assigned, the author of a work shall have the special right to claim the authorship of the work. Section 57 (1) (b) consists of two segments. The first part would entitle the author to restrain the opposite party from making any distortion, mutilation or modification or any other act in relation to the said work if it would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation. The second part says that, the author is entitled to claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation or other modifications in the said work or any other action, in relation to the copyrighted work which would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation.” The law is therefore, clear that even after assignment the author has legal right to protect his intellectual property.
The Court, while keeping in mind the stakes involved in the film and taking a middle path observed that though the appellant is the actual owner of the script but the film is to be released in almost all cities in India as well in foreign countries and all arrangements for this have been made, and if the release is postponed for the reason of the name of the scriptwriter, the damages that would be caused to the respondent “will be huge and is beyond imagination”.
Considering all the facts and issues, the Court held that the film may be released without displaying anyone’s name as the scriptwriter thereof till the disposal of the suit while also directing the trial court to dispose of the case within six months.
Section 57 of the Copyright Act grants an author “special rights,” which exist independently of the author’s copyright, and subsists even after the assignment (whole or partial) of the said copyright. It reads as,
“57. Author’s special rights.—
- Independently of the author’s copyright and even after the assignment either wholly or partially of the said copyright, the author of a work shall have the right— (a) to claim authorship of the work; and (b) to restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, modification or other act in relation to the said work if such distortion, mutilation, modification or other act would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation: Provided that the author shall not have any right to restrain or claim damages in respect of any adaptation of a computer programme to which clause (aa) of sub-section (1) of section 52 applies. Explanation.— Failure to display a work or to display it to the satisfaction of the author shall not be deemed to be an infringement of the rights conferred by this section.]
- The right conferred upon an author of a work by sub-section (1), may be exercised by the legal representatives of the author.”
Thus, the author has the right to (a) claim authorship of the work; and (b) restrain or claim damages with respect to any distortion, mutilation, modification, or other act in relation to the said work if such distortion, mutilation, modification, or other act would be prejudicial to his honour or repute. These special rights can even be exercised by the legal representatives of the author according to sub-section (2) of the said provision.
Before the Amendment (Act 27 of 2012) the right to claim authorship could not be exercised by legal representatives of the author. Now, post death of the author, if he is not given credit for his work, then even legal representatives, may be able to take necessary action to remedy such breach.
Moral rights of an author find their expression envisaged in Section 57 itself. They are the author’s or creators special right which includes the right to paternity and the right to integrity.
The right to paternity is the right of the author to claim authorship over his work and have it attributed to him. On the other hand, the right to integrity permits the author to restrain or claim damages in the event of any distortion, mutilation, modification or any other untoward act done to his work. However, it is essential that such act in question should prejudice the honor and reputation of the creator or author and such act should be done before the expiry of the term of copyright in the work.
Though initially intended to protect only literary works, the concept of moral rights was later extended to artistic, musical, dramatic and cinematograph films as well.
The Delhi High Court earlier also in Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India117 (2005) DLT 717, has reiterated this in its judgment saying that “Language of Section 57 does not exclude the right of integrity in relation to cultural heritage. The cultural heritage would include the artist whose creativity and ingenuity is amongst the valuable cultural resources of a nation. Through the telescope of section 57 it is possible to legally protect the cultural heritage of India through the moral rights of the artist.”
The main Point in that case is that despite the transfer or sale of a copyrighted work (Mural) from the creator to another person, all the rights of the creator do not get extinguished. The creator still retains his/her moral rights that can be enforced when the need be.
By Roopa Dayal, Partner
O.P. Khaitan & Co