“I could not afford to go to Delhi just to register my script” says Mr. Gopi, a script writer who recently filed a suit against the “Kaththi” director Murugadoss accusing him of stealing his script. I watched this very interesting interview of his where he says that he’s met with the director thrice and had discussed the script with the director’s assistant for years together. When asked if he had given his script prior to the release of the film, he replied in the affirmative and said that he had given a binder which was the script to the assistant. After which, he says his calls were ignored and he was left hanging. After the release of the movie, he had gone and watched it and says that it was based exactly on the script that was given by him.

Based on the facts, one can cull out the following points:

1. He says he had given his script in form of a binder based on which the film was made. Does that amount to copyright infringement?

Quite possible. Had he just shared his idea with the assistant or the director, then would not amount to copyright infringement because an idea is not copyrightable. But if as he suggests, he handed over the binder which was the entire script to the movie, to the assistant it may be infringement if Mr. Murgadoss copied substantial portions of the script

It is but natural that an aspiring story writer like himself needs to share his story with more than one person to find the right producer/director. Mr Gopi says that he disclosed his story to the assistant as he trusted him. Legally speaking, trust is not something to go by in the film industry or any industry for that matter. You are here to do business, so carry a Non-disclosure agreement along with the script. If the person you are going to disclose your story to is your “friend” then he would surely sign it without hesitating. The minute he refuses to sign it, you know its time to leave.

2. Registering the script with Writer’s association – helpful or not?

Mr. Gopi says he had tried to register his script with the Writer’s Association and was not able to because he was not a member of the Association.

Off late, one of the solutions that script writers are advised to choose is to go register the story with the writers association. While that seems to be a good idea, the downside is that you need to be a “member” of the association in order for you to get your story registered with it.

On a legal front, this makes less sense to me because when one can directly file his/her application to protect the script as a literary work with the Copyright office by paying a nominal fee (INR 500), no one should have to pay INR 20,000-30,000 to first become a member of whichever association, which in fact requires certain prerequisites like you should have directed at least 13 episodes of some TV series (which I think is unreasonable), then keep renewing your membership annually. Instead of going through so much trouble, it is easier to just file the application with the Copyright office.

3. Last but definitely the most important point – you don’t have to go to Delhi to file a copyright application.

While it is known that the moment the work is created, it gets protection, it is however advisable that steps be taken to compile evidence of creation. The best way to do so is to apply for registration of the script in the copyright office (Delhi) which can be done through the online filing system which implies that you don’t have to go to Delhi in order to file your application.

Poor man’s copyright:

One of the other ways to create evidence of creation is to seal the script in an envelope and send it to yourself through registered post, which is what Mr. Gopi allegedly did. In general to prove this in a Court of law is quite difficult as it can be easily faked.

Poor man’s copyright is a practice of sending yourself a copy of your own work, be it a photograph that you clicked or a book that you have written, so as to create evidence of the fact that you were in possession of the said published work since this particular day. The general practise that Courts adopt to determine who the first user is, is based on when the work was first published. The reason it is possible to prove that you were the first user is because of the postal seal/receipt that you get on the envelope in which you’ve sealed the fate of your copyright, or so you think. Because if you believe in the existence of Unicorns and Leprechauns, then this principle of “poor man’s copyright” is believable too. Like I said earlier, it is very easy to manipulate stamps and fake documents thereby making it difficult to prove in the Courts. So instead you might just want to apply for a copyright application which cost effective and time saving.

It is fairly easy to get your work registered under the copyright law thus making it the best option for script writers have against potential infringers who they might think are their “trusted” friends. Just think about it, you can first file a copyright application for your script and then go talk to potential producers and directors. This way, should they infringe your copyright at a later stage, you can play your trump card, which is the copyright registration itself.

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