Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd. and Anr.
1987 (7) PTC 87 (DEL)
Mannu Bhandari, the Plaintiff/Appellant, was an author of great repute in Hindi Literature. She entered into a contract with the Defendants/Respondents for the assignment of the rights in her novel ‘Aap Ka Bunty’ for its production into a film.
The Respondents produced the film ‘Samay Ki Dhara’ based on the aforesaid novel.
However, the Appellant claimed that the Respondents have distorted and mutilated her novel for commercial gain.
The Appellant moved the Court of Additional District Judge, Delhi pleading for a decree of permanent injunction on the screening and exhibition of the film on the grounds that the Respondents have breached the contract of assignment and have violated her rights under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
Appellant primarily objected to (i) the title ‘Samay Ki Dhara’ and prayed for a direction to amend the film’s title, (ii) the change in the exhibition of certain characters of the novel, and (iii) the mutilation of the theme by use of vulgar dialogues.
The trial/district court refused the relief of ad-interim restraint order to the Appellant. Hence, the appeal was filed by the Appellant in the High Court of Delhi.
Before the pronouncement of the judgment by the High Court of Delhi, the parties reached a settlement that the Respondents would delete the Appellant’s name and the name of her novel from the credits, and in return, the Appellant shall not claim any rights whatsoever in the film ‘Samay Ki Dhara’. But the parties requested the Court to pronounce the judgment as there were no decisions by a Court of law on this issue. Therefore, it turned out to be the first case on the interpretation of s.57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
Arguments on behalf of the Appellant:
Novel of the Appellant, ‘Aap Ka Bunty’ is recognised by the public both nationally and internationally for its script, theme, dialogue, substance and the central idea. If a distorted version of her novel is allowed to be presented through the film, her admirers would conclude that she has fallen prey to big money and consented to mutilations and distortions of her novel and doubt her sincerity and commitment.
Arguments on behalf of the Respondents:
By signing the contract of assignment, and receiving the full amount in consideration for assignment of rights, the Appellant had agreed to the modifications. Therefore, the Appellant cannot object to the modifications after the movie has been produced.
In case of a literary reproduction of the novel with impermissible changes, the publisher can be restrained. However, if a film is produced based on the novel, no restraint order can be passed.
Judgment and Observations made by the Court:
On Respondents’ objection that the acceptance of the total consideration for the assignment disqualifies the Appellant from holding any rights in the work, the Court held that the wording of Section 57, viz. ‘even after the assignment’ dismisses such a contention. Assignment means the passing of the title on payment of consideration, and the legislators have made it clear through the words used, that the special rights of the author can be exercised even after an assignment.
The basic question before the Court was how to balance the author’s freedom of expression with that of the director in the field of art. The Court agreed with the trial Court to as much that some changes are inevitable when a novel is being converted into a motion picture, but held that such changes or modifications should not convert the work into an entirely new version of the original work. The modifications should not distort or mutilate the original novel. The main theme, the situations and the main characters of the novel must be untouched.
To answer the question, the Court interpreted the scope of Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 and held that the section gives special rights to the author beyond the material gains of copyright. These rights are independent of the author’s copyright and the remedies open to the author under Section 55.
The fact that remedies can be claimed even after an assignment has been made, highlights the special protection of the intellectual property. Thus, Section 57 has an overriding effect over the terms of the contract of assignment of a copyright. Hence, the contract of assignment between the parties must be read subject to the rights given to an author under Section 57. A contract cannot negate the special rights and remedies available to an author under the section. The right of the Appellant/assignor to seek a remedy under the section does not stand waived by the assignment.
Though the appeal was disposed off in the terms of the settlement, the observations and directions of the Hon’ble Court provide a guiding light towards interpretation of Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
Author: Aadhya, National Law University, Odisha