screenplay for film nayak

Delhi High Court: In a plaint filed by RDB and Co (plaintiff) is a Hindu undivided property of RD Bansal, seeking injunction against Harpercollins Publishers (defendant) for the novelization of the screenplay of the film ‘Nayak’ released in 1966 by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, and the publication of the novel by the defendant alleging infringement of the plaintiff.s copyright, the plaintiff being the producer of the film, within the meaning of Section 511 of the Copyright Act, 1957. C. Hari Shankar, J., held that the plaintiff has no right in law to injunct the defendant from novelizing the screenplay of the film ‘Nayak’ as the screenplay was written by Satyajit Ray and not RD Bansal.

Satyajit Ray was commissioned, by R.D. Bansal, stated to be the Karta of the plaintiff-HUF, to write the screenplay of, and to direct, the film Nayak. Satyajit Ray wrote the screenplay and also directed the film. Sometime in or around 2018, Mr. Bhaskar Chattopadhyay novelized the screenplay of Nayak. The novel was published by the defendant and released on 05-05-2018. Nayak released in 1966 is regarded as one of the masterworks of Bharat Ratna Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest directors in recorded film history.

Thus, the issue under consideration is who owns the copyright in the screenplay of a film, if the author has been commissioned by the producer of the film to write the screenplay? Is it the producer of the film, or the author of the screenplay?

The Court noted that Section 13(4) Copyright Act, clarifies that the copyright held in a cinematographic film shall not affect the separate copyright in any work, in respect of which, or in respect of a substantial part of which, the film is made. In other words, if a cinematographic film is made in respect of a part of a whole or another work in which separate copyright vests under Section 13(1), the copyright held in the cinematographic film would not affect such separate copyright. Therefore, the copyright of the plaintiff in the cinematograph film ‘Nayak’ is subsisting.

The Court further noted that the expression ‘literary work’ is defined in an inclusive fashion in Section 2(o) of the Copyright Act, therefore, must embrace, within its scope and sweep, the normal etymological understanding of the expression ‘literary work’, and would include, apart from what is normally understood to be a literary work, tables, and compilations. Thus, given the ambit of the expression ‘literary work’, the screenplay of the film Nayak is unquestionably a ‘literary work’ for the purpose of Section 13(1)(a) of the Copyright Act.

The Court stated that Section 17 makes it clear that the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright in the work and ‘author’ is defined, in Section 2(d)(i), in relation to a literary work, as the author of the work. Thus, the author of the screenplay of the film ‘Nayak’ is, therefore, indisputably, Satyajit Ray.

On the aspect of defendants’ rights in the present case, the Court opined that novelization of a screenplay does not involve either abridgment of the screenplay, or converting it into a version in which the story or action is conveyed wholly or mainly by means of pictures in a form suitable for reproduction in a book, the novelization is not ‘adaptation’ as defined in Section 2(a) Copyright Act. As the first owner of the copyright in the screenplay of the film ‘Nayak’, therefore, the right to novelize the screenplay is also vested in Satyajit Ray. That right could be assigned by him and, consequent on his demise, by his son and others on whom the right devolved or on any other person, under Section 18(1)44 of the Copyright Act.

Thus, the Court held that the assignment of the right to novelize the screenplay of the film ‘Nayak’, by Sandip Ray and the SPSRA, in favour of the defendant is, therefore, wholly in order and in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The plaintiff has no right whatsoever, in law, to injunct the defendant from novelizing the screenplay of the film ‘Nayak’.

[RDB and Co HUF v Harpercollins Publishers India Private Limited, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 3046, decided on 23-05-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Hemant Daswani, Mr. Siddhant Shrivastava and Mr. Sarabpreet Singh, Advocates for the Plaintiff;

Ms. Swathi Sukumar, Ms. Ashima Obhan, Ms. Taarika Pillai, Mr. Naveen Nagarjuna and Ms. Tarini Sahai, Advocates for the Defendants.

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