Role of Copyright in the Media and Entertainment Industry

By | November 26, 2020
Role of Copyright in the Media and Entertainment Industry

“The right to be attributed as an author of a work is not merely a copyright, it is every author’s basic human right”. –  Kalyan C. Kankanala

The expression of a creative brain has always been protected by intellectual property laws, especially copyright. With emerging trends and new forms of creative works, the world of intellectual property has successfully adapted to changing trends to provide protection to the creative works of authors, artists, etc. This article explains the role of copyright laws in the media and entertainment industry.

I. Introduction

This century has seen a rapid rise in media consumption. Our day begins with media and ends with it too. Media and entertainment industry has over the years expanded immensely and is adapting with the changing times and technologies. Following are basic sources of media that form the media and entertainment industry:

  • Films
  • Television
  • Newspaper
  • Advertisements
  • Radio
  • Music
  • Computer Games
  • Applications
  • Blogs
  • Vlogs
  • Websites

Intellectual property is considered as one of the biggest assets of this world. With changing times, we have witnessed new remedies coming up for regulating creative works without causing any damage to the author and owner of the copyright of creative works.

Amongst all the copyright infringement cases which exist in the media and entertainment industry, the film and television world alone has contributed to more than 80% of such cases. The remedy of copyright has served as a major relief to not only the well known and established filmmakers, writers, producers and directors but also the unknown and struggling ones who felt their creative work has been used illegally.

Numerous amounts of films are produced and released for public entertainment every year, having an approximate investment of more than a 1000 crore, and acts of infringement or piracy somewhere lead to huge losses to producers, against which the effective remedy is provided under the Copyright Act, and has been set by the courts of law over the years.

II. Copyright in India

The remedy of copyright was made available primarily after the passing of the Indian Copyright Act in 1957, with the basic object of protecting the rights of the owner of any literary work, from being misused or used for commercial gain, without giving proper recognition or credits to the owner of the original work. Such kind of protection was given to the original creative works of the author which included the literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

In what is considered as a landmark judgment for the scope of intellectual property in India, the Supreme Court had made the following important observations:[1]

  1. There cannot be any copyright granted for merely an idea, the work shall be expressed in some material form.
  2. To become actionable in the courts of law, the copy so alleged must be a substantial one i.e., merely copying one line or two from any original creative work shall not be concluded as infringing the copyright of the original work.
  3. There would not be any infringement when just the theme of the two works in dispute is the same but has been expressed differently.

In India, it is not compulsory to register copyright but in any future instance of a legal tussle, it works as a proof of ownership of the author or the owner of the copyright. So if copyright is registered, it becomes rather simple for the plaintiff to claim the originality of the work and get relief sought after quickly.

To point out and understand the difference clearly, time and again the courts have cleared that the author of the copyrighted work shall not necessarily be the owner of the copyright. The author is someone who creates such work, but the owner is someone who owns the copyright to such creative work, as clearly mentioned in the contract.  So even if the author gave birth to a unique work, he may or may not have the copyrights to such works.

The Copyright under Indian perspective though under Section 17 of the Indian Copyright Act recognizes the author of any creative work to be the first owner to the copyright of such work, and also very well explains who shall be an author, considering the numerous kinds of works which comes within the ambit of the work creative works.

Also, for the benefit of common public and not to burden the court with unnecessary legal issues, Section 52 of the Indian Copyright Act provides certain instances when infringement would not be considered as committed by the alleged infringer, which basically includes when work is used for strictly personal use, for purposes of giving reviews and criticism to the original and for educational purposes.

III. Copyright effect in the Media industry

As mentioned earlier, the media industry extends vastly to include within its ambit various sources of media like Films, television, radio, advertisements, gaming, just to name a few. Amongst this, the film and television media have fought the maximum number of copyright battles in the court over the past years.

  • Copyright effect in the Film and Television industry

The remedy of copyright has played a very significant role in protecting the rights of authors of various creative works from being commercially misused against their will. Especially in an industry with such cut-throat competition where numerous creative ideas are being executed and presented every year, different types of copyright claims emerge frequently.

The very basic Copyright suits are related to copying of songs, write-ups, lyrics, the concept of any particular film or may even relate to reproduction or remixing of some old songs or so, where the plaintiff files the suit to either enforce an injunction order, seek monetary damages which have been caused since the publication of the copied work, or even both at times.

So very major issues which the film and television industry deal with in terms of copyright infringement, are the illegal reproduction or copying of someone else’s work and claiming it to be an original creative idea. The second issue which is also a very significant source of the losses which the film industry suffers every year is online piracy.

Online piracy, in extremely simple terms, can be defined as the acts of unauthorized websites to keep open access to the public, to download or watch any film, even before it has been officially released in theatres for viewers to watch. When any such film, as it is said commonly “gets leaked online” even before the official release date of the film, the producer of the film has to suffer immense losses, as the maximum public has prior to release, downloaded and watched the film and therefore does not spend its money to go and watch the movie in the theatres.

The Copyright Act along with the Indian judiciary, have time and again proved of immense help to such film producers and authors of creative works, where showing a mere proof of registration of copyright can help the plaintiff claim the originality to the work and obtain injunction and compensation for the losses suffered.

Regarding safety from online piracy, there have been a few instances where the Indian judiciary has rightly followed the path of granting the John Doe orders to the plaintiff when they came up with the estimated losses a big-budgeted film can suffer if such an incident takes place. John Doe orders are basically the interim injunction orders passed against the unknown defendants.

Similarly, in 2014 the production house, Red Chilies Entertainment had filed such a suit in the Bombay High court, where the court clearly observed that considering a past few instances of such nature and the estimated losses which the industry had suffered due to such piracy acts, it granted the plaintiff the injunction orders in the nature of John Doe to enable the pirated copies of the film Happy New Year from being released on different sources of media[2].

So whoever is found to disobey this order of the Hon’ble Bombay High court and commit acts of piracy, would be further liable for criminal activity in the courts. Thus, the remedy of copyright protected the film industry from illegal activities. Such Pre-Infringement Injunction remedy has been provided by the Indian judiciary.

Another very unique feature of the Copyright Act, which helps protect not only the originality of the creative work of such author or the performer but also the reputation and the public image of the performer from any violation. This can be termed as the protection for personality rights.

Sections 38, 38A and 38B of the Indian Copyright Act specifically deal with the topic of performer’s right. It defines who can be recognized as a performer under this act, and apart from having commercial rights over his creative work, be it music or any cinematographic film, how he can even protect his own reputation which has been built by his own blood and sweat. The performer is entitled to be recognized as a performer of the creative work, and receive protection for the work against damages which might even harm his reputation as a performer.

  • Copyright effect in other Media industry

Apart from the film and television industry, there are even other sources of the media which have been rightly safeguarded by the Copyright Act. Basically, in whichever form of media, any unique character has been invented by the creator, or any such taglines have been registered by any radio station for a particular segment, such is duly protected by the Copyright laws.

In a very primary sense, to be liable for protection under the Copyright laws, the creative work should be original; be in any literary, music, sound or cinematographic film form, and be registered for the sake of evidence in the legal battles, if any. Considering any product advertisement where the creator of the music of that advertisement or the person who has written any lyrics for that particular product, the originality of such can also be protected under the Copyright laws. The unique features of any video game or the tagline of any famous website can be registered and protected under the Copyright laws from infringers to make illegal use of such for commercial gains or so.

IV. Conclusion

Hence, copyright laws have always had a very significant role to play in the working of the media industry. The author of the creative work completes his job by creating something unique and original, after which there might be people who would look to use the same work for their own commercial gains. This is exactly where the functioning of the Copyright laws begin, which have been performed to the best of effect since its enactment in 1957. It has also been modified efficiently so as to protect the creative work of the author from both known and anonymous infringers, as well as the reputation of the performer, in case of any damage.


References

[1]  R.G Anand v. M/S. Delux Films  [1978 AIR 1613, 1979 SCR (1) 218], Available Here

[2] Red Chillies Entertainments Private Limited v. Hathway Cable & Datacom Limited & Others, [Notice of Motion (L) No. 2366 of 2014 In Suit (L) No. 993 of 2014]


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Intellectual Property Rights | Notes, Cases & Study Material
Author: Tejas Tare

Student, B.A. LL.B DES Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune

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