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How Do We Protect Film Director Rights in India?


What is a ship without its captain? Perhaps a ship anchored at a port.

A film director is that captain to a film. Though films are made with a collective effort of the writer, screen player, producer, actor, etc., it takes no proper form without the creative mind of the director. A director uses the creative skills of the cast and crew to mold a piece of artwork. However, unlike other artists who receive their due rights and recognition for their work, a director has no recognition in the Copyright Act of India.

As per the current laws in India, the copyright act segregates the parties in movie making into three broad categories – the first being the producer, the second being the authors of the various works, and finally the performers. The first party is considered the owner of the film. He is the one who has all the rights to the movie. The author includes the writer/s of the story, the screenplay writer/s, the dialogue writer/s, etc. The performers include actors, singers, dancers, etc. The director, however, who amalgamates their talents into a cohesive whole, is nowhere to be found in the whole copyright legislation.

Recognition of Work

Every author receives his rights as per the work he creates. These works are divided into literary work, artistic work, musical work, dramatic work, cinematographic film, and sound recordings. A director’s work however does not get its place under any of these divisions. Therefore, this means that he does not receive any exclusive rights which include all his monetary rights on the cinematographic film as per Section 13 of the Act. Furthermore, the director does not even receive his share of moral support. Since he is not recognized as an author, he does not receive moral rights such as those given to authors and performers under Section 57 and Section 38B of the Copyright Act respectfully. This, therefore, allows for a producer to not recognize them as a director even though they have sewed the whole cinematographic piece together. A film can therefore be distorted, or modified, etc., bringing the director’s reputation at stake, but the Director would not receive any legal support from the statute. This is a huge violation of their rights. In a nutshell, this means that a director of a cinematographic film is completely dependent upon the specific contract that is made between him and the producer/production house for any violation of his rights and its remedies.

The Copyright Amendment Bill, 2010

The Copyright Amendment Bill 2010, proposed and subsequently rejected, was one of the ew proposals to consider director’s rights. This bill was brought in to consider changes that could be made to make the Indian legislations of copyright more in sync with the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty and the WIPO Copyright Treaty. However, it shed light on this very complex topic. This bill wanted to give directors the right to authorship in their cinematographic work. It in fact wanted to go beyond what was in practice. As per the current laws, a producer has the exclusive right to a movie for 60 years. However, the Bill wanted to introduce joint ownership of the producer and the director for the cinematographic films. It also wanted to give the director his exclusive rights for a tenure of 70 years. This would have made our Indian laws at par with the laws of the United Kingdom and France.

When this amendment was proposed in front of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the committee rejected the idea, swayed by arguments presented by the multiple stakeholders. The Film and Television Producers Guild of India stated that the costs and risks were borne by the producers alone, and that directors who already charged a flat fee as well as the percentage of the cuts, would be unfairly empowered by the new law. Such a law, they also stated, would make it harder for films in general to get produced and new talent to break into the industry. Another stakeholder, the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, argued that recognizing only the principal director when a film production was a collaboration of multiple crafts was unwarranted and unfair.

The committee concurred with their concerns, stating that enormous rights with no liabilities given to the principal director was not maintainable. The committee referred to the American system of mutual contracts, and how the current Indian system carefully balanced multiple stakeholders via contracts. Elevating the principal producer to a special standard would, the committee decided, do more harm than good in the long run.

The Need for Legislation

India is home to one of the biggest movie industries in the world. Bollywood alone produces the most amount of movies as well as has the largest share of viewers in the world. Once we include the regional film industries, the numbers are much higher. There may have been reasons for rejecting the 2010 Amendment, but it is disappointing to see that there have been no further legislative provisions for protecting film rights.

Cinematographic films are not made by the efforts of one or two people. It requires the efforts of hundreds of people, the rights of whom should always be protected. The lawmakers of the country should look into this aspect. Even though the international treaties do not make director rights compulsory, India has the opportunity to redefine the current scenario. As a country with many regional and small-scale film industries, it’s possible that we could be a template for more equitable copyright protections that rest within the legislature and not private contracts.

Just like the amendments with regards to the rights of performers and broadcasters have been revolutionary, we should have laws molded to focus on the directors, editors and other crucial film personnel. Mr. Satyajit Ray once said, “The director is the only person who knows what the film is about,” and the Indian legislations can consider understanding the value and creativity that a director puts into the work and starts providing them with, at the very least, moral rights.

Author: Maitreyi Shishir, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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