There are a large number of plagiarism accusations in the Film industry. The makers of the films are accused of copying the plot, screenplay, characters, or dialogues. Many times the launch posters of the films are also accused of being copied from other films or Television series. Almost all the time, these allegations are denied or are passed off as being ‘inspired’ or ‘adaptations’ of the original work.
Plagiarism in films is considered to be immoral or unethical as one is representing another’s work as one’s original idea. However, there is a thin line difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. If there is a copyright infringement, it can even attract penal provisions like hefty fines and even imprisonment.
The plagiarism in movies is not only limited to Bollywood, but many Hollywood films have also been accused of plagiarism. Some of these instances are included in the article.
Further, the Laws and remedies related to plagiarism in films have been mentioned.
Pioneered- Be the first to use.
Predisposed- Make someoneliable or inclined to a specific attitude, action, or condition.
Novelty- The quality of being new, original, or unusual.
Provincialism- The way of life characteristic of the regions outside the capital city of a country, especially when regarded as unsophisticated or narrow-minded.
Plagiarism is the representation of another author’s thoughts, ideas, or expressions as one’s original work. In the 1st century, the use of the Latin word “plagiarius” (literally “kidnapper”) to denote stealing someone else’s work was pioneered by the Roman poet Martial, who complained that another poet had “kidnapped his verses”. The derived form of plagiarism was introduced into English around 1620.
Plagiarism is not itself a crime, but it is considered to be immoral and unethical. However, there is a thin line difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Plagiarism means passing off another person’s work as belonging to oneself without giving credit to the source. On the other hand, Copyright infringement means the use of copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder, even though the credits might be given as to the source. It may even lead to an action in court for unauthorized usage.
Plagiarism is not only limited to the academic world, but there have also been a large number of plagiarism accusations in the film industry. Many directors, producers, and story writers have been accused of plagiarising the story, theme, characters, screenplay, dialogues, and even posters of their films. This article will be focusing on the plagiarism in movies in detail.
Plagiarism is especially difficult to prove in India because of the judgment by Supreme Court whereby it was held that ideas, subjects, themes, plots, and facts cannot be copyrighted and therefore the similarities in the works are unavoidable. However, certain tests are used by the Courts to determine whether a film is plagiarised, some of which are:
· Lay Observer Test-
The test asks if an average lay observer would be predisposed to overlook the differences between the works and consider the overall aesthetics of the works the same. In simpler terms, the test asks if an ordinary person, after viewing the works is of a clear opinion that the subsequent work is a copy of the original.
In R.G Anand v. Deluxe films, the plaintiff contended that the defendant had made the film ‘New Delhi’ based on his play ‘Hum Hindustani’. The Supreme Court, in this case, applied the Lay Observer Test and held that the film cannot be said to be a “substantial or material copy” of the plaintiff’s play.
· Scènes à Faire-
This doctrine states that when an element of a work is customary in a particular genre, it is not protectable. For example, the plot that a man and a woman from rival families fall in love with is very common and can’t be protected. This principle was observed in Barbara Taylor Bradford v. Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd. and NRI Film Production Associates (P) Ltd. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. The idea in the former case was that a woman’s social position started from scratch and reached the top, the plaintiff argued that it was taken from her previous work ‘A Women of Substance’. In the latter, an idea of traffic jams, disruption of communication, effects of nuclear missiles, etc. were represented. These were held to be ideas with no novelty or uniqueness. It was observed that even ideas such as prostitution, drinking, and the like (like provincialism) were not new ideas.
· Inverse Ratio Rule-
The inverse ratio rule says that when the showing that the defendant had access to the plaintiff’s work is very strong, the bar for showing the similarity between the works is correspondingly lower. Besides, when the showing similarity between the works is very strong, the bar for showing that the defendant had access to the plaintiff’s work is correspondingly lower.
· Substantial Similarity-
Substantial similarity is a level of similarity that shows the improper appropriation of the plaintiff’s work, one of the requirements for a prima facie infringement claim. It is also to be judged whether, without the similarities, the remainder would be left meaningless.
The Supreme Court applied this principle in Twentieth Century Fox Films v. Sohail Maklai Entertainment Pvt Ltd. In this case, the defendant was accused of copying the idea of the film ‘Phone Booth’ and remaking it into ‘Knockout’. The basic plot of both the films was found to be similar and the court also held that the material part of the latter film is substantially copied from the original, without which, the film cannot stand.
Some instances of plagiarism in films
More often than not, the filmmakers are accused of plagiarising the content or plot of their films. We see cases of plagiarism being justified as being ‘inspired’ by the original films. This issue is not only limited to Bollywood, but a large number of films from Hollywood have also been prey to plagiarising or copyright infringement suits.
The term ‘copy’ has not been defined in the Copyright Act, 1957. Therefore, it has been open to interpretation by various courts. In the R.G. Anand Case (supra), the Court laid the principle that there can be no copyright in an idea, subject-matter, themes, plots or historical or legendary facts and violation of the copyright in such cases is confined to the form, manner and arrangement and expression of the idea by the author of the copyrighted work.
In another recent case of MRF Ltd. v. Metro tyres Ltd. , the Delhi High Court held that ‘to make a copy of the film’ does not mean just to make a physical copy of the film by a process of duplication, but it also refers to another film which substantially, fundamentally, essentially and materially resembles/reproduces the original film.
Some of the films that were accused of Plagiarism include:
· Sultan (2016)-
The Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma star movie was accused of plagiarising an advertisement by J&W Steel. The 2nd teaser of the film, which introduced Anushka Sharma was accused of being a copy of the advertisement by J&W Steel, starring Geeta Phogat, the gold-winning wrestler.
· Dear Zindagi (2016)-
Dharma Productions who made the movie ‘Dear Zindagi’ was accused of copying a Canadian TV show ‘Being Erica’ which is also a story on the same lines as the movie.
· October (2018)-
Sarika Mene, a Marathi filmmaker, had claimed that ‘October’ plagiarised plot and characters from her 2017 film ‘Aarti: The Unknown Love Story.’ She had filed a non-cognizable criminal complaint against makers of ‘October.’ However, Screen Writers Association (SWA) cleared the film of all the charges in a letter, dated 20 May 2018.
· Ra.One (2011)-
The film was accused of plagiarising movies such as, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)’, the ‘Batman series’, ‘Iron Man (2008)’, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)’ and ‘Tron: Legacy (2010)’. Also, a few days before the release, screenwriter Yash Patnaik claimed that ‘Ra.One’ resembled a concept that he had developed several years before. Patnaik appealed to the Bombay High Court to delay the film’s release until he was given due credit or 10% of the film’s overall profit. The court, observing prima facie evidence that there had been copyright violations, asked the filmmakers to deposit ₹10 million (US$140,000) with the court before releasing the film.
· Om Shanti Om (2007)-
Scriptwriter Ajay Monga moved the Bombay High Court alleging that the basic storyline of the film was lifted from a film script he had emailed to Shah Rukh Khan in 2006. According to the petition, Monga, along with one more writer Hemant Hegde, had registered the script with the Cine Writers Association (CWA) in September 2005. He approached the court to stay the film’s screening on television. The court rejected Monga’s plea for seeking a stay on the television telecast. But, in November 2008, the Film Writers’ association sent a communication to Red Chillies and Ajay Monga that it had found similarities in ‘Om Shanti Om’ and Monga’s script and that the similarities were more than mere coincidences.
· The Lion King (1994)-
Upon the release of the film in 1994, the critics pointed out the uncanny similarities characters, plot, and some scenes and shots with the Japanese anime series, ‘Kimba: The White Lion’, which aired in 1965. However, no legal action was taken by Tezuka Productions (the creators of Kimba) against Disney.
· Finding Nemo (2003)-
A French author, Franck le Calvez claimed that Disney had plagiarised his idea for their film ‘Finding Nemo’. He claimed that he was the first one to come up with the plot and had developed the character of the fish, whom he named ‘Pierrot Le Poisson-Clown’. He further claimed that he had tried pitching the idea to several film producers in 1995 and that it was how the idea must have found a way to America.
International Conventions and Indian Laws
The International Conventions governing Copyrights include:
· The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, 1886-
It is the main international convention governing copyright. It lays down the common framework: rights of the author, minimum guaranteed copyright duration, actions requiring permission, etc. It introduced the concept that a copyright exists the moment a work is ‘fixed’, rather than requiring registration. It also enforces a requirement that countries recognize copyrights held by the citizens of all other parties to the convention.
· Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), 1995–
It is an agreement between all the member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It sets down minimum standards for the regulation by national governments of many forms of intellectual property (IP)
· The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)-
It is a special agreement under the Berne Convention which deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors in the digital environment. It provides additional protection for the copyright to respond to advances in information technology since the formation of previous copyright treaties before it.
· Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), 1952-
The UCC was developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an alternative to the Berne Convention for those states that disagreed with aspects of the Berne Convention but still wished to participate in some form of multilateral copyright protection. However, the UCC has lost its significance now as almost all countries are either members or aspiring members of the WTO, and thus comply with the TRIPS Agreement.
The Law that governs the Copyrights in India is the Copyright Act, 1957. After the Amendments in the Act, it fully complies with the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC).
Apart from the Copyrights Act, the Films made in India also have to comply with Cinematograph Act, 1952; Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1981; Cine Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1981 and the Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act 1981.
An aggrieved party can institute a civil suit against the alleged plagiarist. The reliefs granted by the Court include warnings, interim or permanent injunctions, payment of damages, providing due credit, or a share in the profits made by the film.
However, when plagiarism is of such an extent to cause copyright infringement, the provisions of The Copyright Act, 1957 will apply. It provides for criminal liability to offenders of Copyright Infringement, which may extend to hefty fines and even imprisonment which may extend to three years.
Also, the Screenwriters Association (SWA) is a trade union and the members can complain with the Dispute Settlement Sub-Committee of the association. This committee is a Quasi-Judicial body set up for Mediation and Conciliation between its members and members of other craft associations, including producers/employers.
There have been increasing cases of Plagiarism in the film industry throughout the world. To stop this ball from rolling, stricter laws and defined standards need to be made concerning the plagiarism in the cinematograph films. Also, proper enforcement of the International treaties should be there, which should be monitored so that plagiarism does not go unchecked.
The filmmakers need to understand the difference between ‘taking inspiration’ and blatantly copying someone else’s work without any credits. Moreover, in the film industry, many small writers/producers are hesitant to call out the bigger production houses for the fear of being boycotted or suppressed. The law needs to be made stricter so that these small artists are not taken advantage of.
 AIR 1978 SC 1613
 2004 (28) PTC 474 Cal
 ILR 2004 KAR 4530
 Bom HC, 10 Oct. 2014
 Del HC, 1 July 2019