Citation: AIR 1987 Delhi 13
Court: Delhi High Court
Bench: Justice S.B Wad
Mannu Bhandari, an acclaimed author in the world of Hindi literature, entered into a contract with Kala Vikas Pictures (“Kala Vikas”) to assign the rights to make a film based on her popular novel Aap ka Bunty. She agreed that the filmmakers could make certain modifications in the novel after discussing it with her to make it a successful film. Kala Vikas then produced a film titled as ‘Samay Ki Dhara’. As per Mannu Bhandari, the film contained distorted and modified versions of her novel, which if allowed to be screened, would lower her image and the special reputation of her novel. Consequently, she brought a suit in the District Court of Delhi against Kala Vikas as well as the producer and the director, pleading for permanent injunction against the screening and exhibition of the film.
The Additional District Judge refused to grant relief and was of the view that Mannu Bhandari could not prima facie establish that Kala Vikas has distorted or mutilated her novel, and further that the film was not going to harm her reputation as an author. Aggrieved by this, Mannu Bhandari filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court as she wished for the authoritative stand of the Court on the question of the rights of authors.
What is the scope and width of Section 57 (moral rights) of the Copyright Act, 1957?
Where does the author’s freedom of expression end, and where does the Director’s begin?
Section 57, Copyright Act, 1957 - Author’s special rights
The Bench pondered upon the question of balancing the freedom (of expression) of the author with that of the director in the field of art. It was of the view that the Additional District Judge had not considered the scope of Section 57 and the contract of assignment in question. Apart from the economic rights, Section 57 confers additional rights i.e the moral rights on the author of a literary work as compared to the owner of a general copyright. Since the remedies of a restraint order or damages can be claimed even after the assignment (either wholly or partially) of the copyright, the Section over-rides the contract of assignment. An assignee of a copyright cannot claim any rights or immunities based on the contract which are inconsistent with Section 57.
The Bench did not agree with the Additional District Judge’s finding that since modifications are permissible under the contract of assignment, Mannu Bhandari had failed to prove the breach of Section 57. Although changes are inevitable in the process of converting a novel into a film, these changes must not completely modify the original theme and characters. Modifications that convert the film into an entirely new version from the original novel, and distort or mutilate the novel should not be permitted.
Although the Court concluded that certain scenes in the film must be changed before the screening to maintain the original plot of the novel, the parties arrived at a settlement before the pronouncement of the judgement. The filmmakers agreed to delete the names of the author and her novel from the film credits, while Mannu Bhandari agreed to not claim any rights or interest in the film.
While dealing with this case, the Bench attempted to strike a balance between creative freedom of filmmakers and the moral rights of authors. The observations of the Delhi High Court throw light upon the interpretation of Section 57 and elaborated on the importance of the same. It can be said that in some ways, the case of Mannu Bhandari acts as a beacon of hope for authors of literary works by stressing upon the relevance of moral rights.