What Every Scriptwriter Should Know

What Every Scriptwriter Should Know

So you have worked hard for months and written your script and screenplay. After unending series of drafting, redrafting and incorporating ideas and suggestions of friends, family and well wishers you have finally come to a somewhat final draft of your script. Now the real battle begins. Pitching in your script to the production houses, meeting people and a marathon of endless narrations that follow.

But what if your script gets leaked in the process? Or someone is “inspired” by your idea and comes up with a not-so-different version of your story? Or worse, before you know it, someone uses your very own work and makes a film, which gets a theatrical release and becomes a hit while you are still in the web of narrations and delays. Nightmare?

Well its time you know your rights properly and are well informed and prepared. After all you are a professional and its better to be safe than sorry.

Here are a few things that EVERY SCRIPTWRITER SHOULD KNOW.

Am I the author?

Section 17 of the Copyright Act 1957 statutorily recognizes the author of the work to be the first owner of the copyright therein. However it is subject to some exceptions. As in the case of a literary or dramatic work the author, i.e., the person who creates the work is the author. If the work is created in the course of employment the employer is the owner of the copyright (unless a contract to the contrary exists). As in the case of a cinematograph work (film), the producer is the author.

Whose idea is it anyway?

It is important to understand that “the originator of an idea is not the owner of the copyright” (R.G Anand Vs. Deluxe films). Copyright belongs to the person who gives concrete form to the idea. E.g.: writes a book, makes a film from an idea discussed etc.

Even if the idea is original no copyright subsists or guaranteed. “The originator of the brilliant idea is not the owner of the copyright in the work, unless he is also the creator of the work” (Donogue Vs. Allied Newspaper).

There can be no copyright in

  • Idea
  • Subject matter
  • Themes/plot
  • Historical/legendary facts
  • News

Copyright exists only in material form to which ideas are translated.

When and where should I register my script?

 It is advisable to register your script before you circulate or narrate it to producers/actors etc. You can register your script at the Film Writers Association (FWA[i]) in Mumbai[ii]. In case of a book or other artistic work you can register for a Copyright to the work. The Copyright Office is currently located in New Delhi[iii].

Is registration expensive? Or compulsory?

The registration fee in the FWA is reasonable between INR 2700 to 3000 (subject to periodic revisions). The appendix A gives an insight into the fee for registration of Copyrights.

Registration of your script or your artistic work is not compulsory. The acquisition of copyright is automatic upon its creation. However in case of a dispute relating to ownership of copyright the prima facie evidence in court is the certificate of registration of Copyright. So registering your work safeguards your rights and is a preventive measure and not a compulsory obligation.

What does it mean when a contract asks you to “assign your rights”?

 The owner or prospective owner of the copyright in an existing/future work may assign to any person the copyright either wholly or partially and either generally or subject to limitations and either for the whole term of the copyright or any part thereof.

The assignment should be in writing and signed by the assignor (one who assigns the right to another party) or by his duly authorised agent. The document shall be specific about the rights assigned, duration, territorial extent, amount of royalty paid and whether such assignment is subject to revision, extension and the terms of terminations should be mentioned. Where a period of assignment is not stated the period is deemed to be five years from the date of assignment.

What does The Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 say?

 The 2012 amendment strengthens the rights of the author and clarifies that in case of assignment of future work, assignment will come into force only when the work comes into existence. Furthermore, in case of cinematograph film or sound recording, the author shall not assign the right to receive royalties in any form other than as a part of the film or sound recording.

The amendment also includes ‘other considerations’ or modes of payments besides royalty payable to the assignor and in such cases the assignment should be specific about these considerations. All rights assigned should be clearly and specifically mentioned and there can be no general assumptions.

Irrespective of any assignment of the copyright, the authors shall have claim to royalties from the utilization of such work used to make a cinematograph or sound recording.

The amendment also specifies the assignment of copyright void if it is contrary to the terms and conditions of the earlier assignment to a copyright society in which the author of the work is a member.

In addition to these basic amendments other improvements have also been made to the performers rights, compulsory Licence, rights to commercial rental, protection against Internet piracy, special provisions for the disabled etc. For detailed information you can refer to The Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012[iv]

Assignment Vs. Licence

 Assignment is the transfer of ownership of copyrights as per the terms agreed upon in writing. Whereas licensing your work in a limited capacity transfers only the interest in the copyright while you retain the ownership of the copyright.

What is the Author’s Moral Right?

Though not statutorily defined, moral rights are the rights of publication, right to claim authorship, right to prevent alteration and other acts that may damage the author’s reputation. Moral rights are available to the authors even after the economic rights are assigned. The moral rights are independent of the author’s copyright and remains with him even after assignment of the copyright.

When does my script become someone else’s property?

  • In the case of a work made in the course of the author’s employment under a contract of service or apprenticeship, the employer shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright therein.
  • In case of a written assignment to this effect.
  • In case your script is proved to be an original work of a third party and you are not the true owner of the work.
  • In case the author gives a notice to the registrar of Copyrights to relinquish all or any of the rights in the work or by way of public notice as per the new Amendment.
  • If the copyright in the work has expired, the work falls under public domain and its use by other party does not amount to infringement. The general rule is that copyright lasts for 60 years. In the case of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works the 60-year period is counted from the year following the death of the author. In the case of cinematograph work (films), sound recordings, photographs, posthumous publications, anonymous and pseudonymous publications, works of government and works of international organisations, the 60-year period is counted from the date of publication.
  • If the owner of a copyright dies intestate (without making a will), it passes on to his personal representative or legal heirs.

 What should I do when I get to know of script plagiarism?

There are two types of remedies available-

1.Civil –

  1. a) ANTON PILLAR ORDER – in a few cases court may pass an ex parte order requiring the defendant to allow the plaintiff accompanied by attorney to enter his premises and make inspection and take or remove copies for safe custody. However such orders are passed very cautiously.
  2. b) INTERLOCUTORY INJUNCTION can be obtained from the court for an existent infringement, continuance or anticipation of infringement.
  3. c) Damages for infringement and conversion of his copyright material in another form can be claimed by serving a legal notice to the party followed by court proceedings.
  4. d) Account of profits as an alternate to damages.

2.Criminal – Any person who knowingly infringes or abets the infringement of the copyright in any work commits criminal offence under Section 63 of the Copyright Act.

In the court of the first class magistrate proceeding can be initiated for infringement. The court may order all infringing copies to be delivered to the owner and a police officer of the rank of sub inspector and above to seize without warrant all such copies and produce them before the magistrate.

The offence is punishable with imprisonment extending from six months to three years and with a fine of INR 50,000 to 2,00,000.

Appendix A[v]

S.No. For an application for COMPULSORY LICENSE : Fee
1. For a license to republish a Literary, Dramatic, Musical or Artistic work (Sections 31, 31A,31B* and 32A) Rs. 5,000/- per work
2. For a license to communicate an any work to the public by Broadcast(Section 31(1)(b)) Rs. 40,000/- per applicant/per sataton
3. For license to republish a Cinematograph Film (Section 31) Rs. 15,000/- per work
4. For a license to republish a sound recording (Section 31) Rs. 10,000/- per work
5. For a license to perform any work in public (Section 31) Rs. 5,000/- per work
6. For a license to publish or communicate to the public the work or translation (Section 31A) Rs. 5,000/- per work
7. For a license to publish any work in any format useful for person with disability (Section 31 B) Rs. 2,000/- per work
8. For an application for a license to produce and publish a translation of a Literary or Dramatic work in any Language  (Section 32 & 32-A ) Rs. 5,000/- per work
9. For an application for registration or copyright in a:
(a)Literary, Dramatic, Musical or Artistic work Rs. 500/- per work
(b)Provided that in respect of a Literary or Artistic work which is used or is capable of being used in relation to any goods (Section 45) Rs. 2,000/- per work
10. For an application for change in particulars of copyright entered in the Register of Copyrights in respect of a:
(a)Literary, Dramatic, Musical or Artistic work Rs. 200/- per work
(b)Provided that in respect of a literary or Artistic work which is used or is capable of being used in relation to any goods (Section 45) Rs. 1,000/- per work
11. For an application for registration of Copyright in a Cinematograph Film (Section 45) Rs. 5,000/- per work
12. For an application for registration of change in particulars of copyright entered in the Register of Copyrights in respect of Cinematograph film (Section 45) Rs. 2,000/- per work
13. For an application for registration of copyright in a Sound Recording (Section 45) Rs. 2,000/- per work
14. For an application for registration of changes in particulars of copyright entered in the Register of Copyrights in respect of Sound Recording (Section 45) Rs. 1,000/- per work
15. For taking extracts from the indexes (Section 47) Rs. 500/- per work
16. For taking extracts from the Register of Copyrights (Section 47). Rs. 500/- per work
17. For a certified copy of an extract from the Register of Copyrights of the indexes (Section 47) Rs. 500/- per copy
18. For a certified copy of any other public document in the custody of the Register of Copyright or Secretary of the Copyright Board Rs. 500/- per Copy
19. For an application for prevention of importation of infringing copies (Section 53) per place of entry Rs. 1,200/- per work

[i] http://fwa.co.in/Membership.php

[ii] 201/202, Richa, Plot no B – 29,Off New Link Road, Andheri (West). Mumbai – 400 053, India

[iii] 4th Floor, Jeevan Deep Building, Parliament Street. New Delhi – 110001

[iv] http://www.ssrana.in/Admin%5CUploadDocument%5CIP%20Updates%5C2012-06-18- Notification%20of%20the%20Copyright%20Act.pdf

[v] Source: http://copyright.gov.in/frmFeeDetailsShow.aspx

Author – LUBNA YUSUF , 

Founder, La Legal

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is the property of the individual author. The placement of this article is not meant as an endorsement/advertisement of the author for legal representation. The article is created for general awareness and public discussion purposes only.

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