Kerala High Court: Shircy V, J. held that an author has the legal right to protect his intellectual property even after he has sold his authorship while also directing the trial court to take all endeavour to dispose of the case, within six months.

The appellant is a film director and a scriptwriter, who claims to have researched the history of a grand ancient festival ‘Mamankam’, and on this subject, he had written a script for a film. Subsequently, he met the first respondent and an agreement was made for making a film on it.

The counsel for the appellant contended that though the appellant was initially the director, he was replaced shortly after and the film was completed after changing and damaging the script. Hence, a suit was filed, with a petition for interim injunction to restrain the respondents from releasing or distributing the film, but it was denied by the District Court.

The counsel for the respondent Saiby Jose Kidangoor and V. Ramkumar Nambiar contended that the appellant had sold his authorship 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 stop 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 remarked 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. 

The Court, 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. [Sajeev Pillai v. Venu Kunnapalli, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 5338, decided on 11-12-2019]

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