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How can copyrights be used for films ?

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

India started producing films in the year 1913. But not much attention was paid on claiming copyrights for a film then. As the culture of cinematography grew in India, copyright became the biggest asset in the hands of a film producer. Keeping in view the Indian Film Industry, let’s see how IPRs have come in handy for the producers.


In India, no copyright is granted to the title of the film as the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 does not provide for protecting the title of the film. This is for the simple reason that a copyright mainly encourages creativity and acknowledges the endless effort that is put in a work. But when it comes to the title, it is too short to be even qualify as an independent work. Therefore, there are many films in the industry sharing the same title for example, Dostana (1980&2010), Golmaal (1979& 2006), Loha (1987&1997) etc. Having said this, under certain conditions, some film titles can be trademarked to discourage others from using the same title.


The producers can file for the copyright of screenplays and scripts. The script essentially distinguishes one movie from another. In any given movie, the script plays a very important role because it gives a structure to the entire movie. The process starts with hiring a content writer, who creates a story line. This storyline is mainly copyrighted so that others cannot copy the work.In case the film is an adaptation of a book or an already existing work, a separate agreement has to be made between the producer and the original owner of the work. In this case, the producer is also liable to pay a royalty or fee to the owner of the original work.

When a script is based on a personality: In recent times, the production houses are all out for biopics. Biopics like M.S Dhoni, Mary Kom, Dangal etc. have been commercially successful. Whenever a movie is made on any famous personality, the producer has to seek permission from the person and an agreement is to be executed between them. The person shares his/her life story with the producer and receives a consideration for the formation of a contract. As soon as this contract is formed, they become parties to the contract.

The latest issue regarding this was seen in the case of a latest movie called “JHUND” produced by T series, where the movie was based on Vijay Barse, coach of a slum soccer team. However, another film with almost same story and plot has already been produced. The producer of the said movie alleged that since he had already acquired the rights and permission to produce a movie from the subject on whom it is based, it would be unfair for T-series to go ahead and make a movie on the same subject. This led to a court case being filed against T series and the release of the movie has for now been put on hold.

COPYRIGHT OF MUSIC or SONG: The music or song is the heart and soul of a movie. It is very essential that the producers pay the obligated fees in case it is a remake of any previous work. For instance, in 2019, Bala movie producer was accused of copyright infringement, because a song “Don’t be Shy…” was used in their movie which was a remake of Dr. Zeus Don’t be Shy, 2003. The issue was cleared when the producer of the movie put out an official statement regarding taking license from “Karman Entertainment” to recreate the song.

DISTRIBUTIONS IN THE MARKET:After the movie is created, it is further distributed in the local theatres or multiplexesfor the people to watch the film. This is the most crucial stage in the process and also the most vulnerable one. At this stage, a copy of the movie can be easily stolen or pirated which leads to early release of the movie on various illicit sites. Despite the fact that countries across the world have taken action against distribution of pirated movies, such content is still accessible. Thanks to the strong network of people involved in piracy. Furthermore, with online platforms such as YouTube, it becomes even easier to circulate the pirated content fast and wide.

In 2014, India was listed in the International Piracy Watch List by the US. According to statement given by Mr. Patrick Bilride, Executive Director, International IP, Global Intellectual Property Centre, “the economic contribution of the creative economy and creative sectors in India is limited. Issues like copyright infringement, film piracy, cam cording and content leakage weaken the industry by hampering the deserved revenue production. Economies with supportive copyright protection are at least 30% more likely to have larger and more dynamic content and media sectors than are countries with less favourable IP regime" The report estimates that the Indian media and entertainment industry loses some 820,000 jobs and revenue equivalent to $4 billion each year to piracy and counterfeiting. In 2016, movies like Udta Punjab, Great Grand Masti and Kabali saw a downfall on the box office due to the leaks of the movies that took place. To reduce the risks of infringement, the producers and distributers can take up steps like identifying all risks, probability, impact, and security, formulating IP protection program, identifying IP and ownership according to legal laws and principles etc. Also, people need to take into account that passing off others work as their own is not only unfair to the original creator but also hampers one’s own creative instinct.

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