Bollywood for a long time now, has been taking inspiration from Hollywood movies, not only Hollywood but South Indian movies too but at times, they have gone too far with taking “Inspiration”, and actually started “Infringing” others rights; or was that always the case?

Before 2010, the answer to every argument for copied work by filmmakers and music composers etc was that it was inspired by the earlier published work. But for the first time in 2010 Twentieth Century Fox has filed a suit against Sohail Maklai Entertainment for the unlawful remake of Twentieth Century Fox thriller “Phone Booth”, into Knockout. In both the movies the entire plot of the movie revolves around a hostage in the phone booth having major conversations with the sniper, also in both the films the hostage is intervened by the intruders during the conversation. Also, though the film ‘Phone Booth’ revolves around extra-marital affair and ‘Knockout’ around issue of black money with a zest of extra-marital affair, is this to be termed as a mere inspiration? I guess not, there cannot be too many coincidences once you only derive inspiration out of anything. In this case, the courts have first time said that it was a case of Copyright infringement and awarded damages to the Twentieth Century Fox.

Ever since the number of these cases have increased substantially. Not only small banner films but big banners have been in the news too. For instance, ‘Bang Bang’ starring Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif, produced by Fox Star Studios, is just an Hindi version of ‘Knight and Day’ featuring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, with almost having Hindi version of all punch lines, plot, scenes, timings etc.

There is a long list of such movies, “Phone Booth”, into ‘Knock out’, ‘Hitch’ into ‘Partner’, ‘Reservior Dogs’ into ‘Kaante’, ‘What lies beneath’ into ‘Raaz’, ‘Nine Months’ into ‘Salaam Namaste’, ‘Night & Day’ into ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Ocean Trilogy’ into ‘Happy New Year’, ‘My Cousin Vinny’ into ‘Banda Yeh Bindas hai’ and many more.

The line has to be drawn between taking Inspiration and actually Infringing others rights, which our Bollywood has almost forgotten. Our Copyright law provides a protection for an original work and also against people trying to copy it.  It provides protection for expression of an idea, but not to the idea itself. To plead a successful claim in India the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s work is a substantial and material copy of the copyrighted work. Therefore, the Supreme Court of India has said that the best way to determine whether a copyright violation has occurred is to “see if the reader, spectator, or viewer after having read or seen both the works is clearly of the opinion and gets an unmistakable impression that the subsequent work appears to be a copy of the original.”

In this era of resistance less access, it is impossible that comparisons won’t be made. It is inevitable and bound to happen. The key is to carefully observe to what degree the work is dependable on the said copied work. In this era, two different works can have a nexus, though, both may be original in their own sphere or one has drawn some inspiration from the other, but it is common and easy to decide whether a work is just an inspiration from other, or completely copied or not. After all, even the landmark judgment of R.G. Anand states the test as ‘a person with common memory after watching or reading a work is able to distinguish between the original and copied work.’

While it took a while to get into the fray, the Courts now deal with issues of copyright infringement far more often and with clear reasoning. We’re slowly reaching a stage where infringers will not be able to hide behind the term inspiration!

This article has been authored by Prachi, an IP Law practitioner.

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff at Selvam and Selvam is a team of Lawyers, Interns and Staff with expertise in Intellectual Property Rights led by Raja Selvam.