Special authorship rights: the ‘Sholay’ saga!

The post is co-authored by Ms. Zoya Nafis, LexOrbis Associate and Ms. Aditi Halder, fourth year student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

sholay_03“Tera kya hoga kaaliya?”, “Ye haath humko de de Thakur”,”Itna sanata kyu hai bhai?”People with even scattered knowledge about Bollywood can’t deny about coming across these timeless taglines!

Hitting the screens in 1975, ‘Sholay’ was a complete blend of rhetorical dialogues, humorous interjections, sloppy scuffles and elaborate dance sequences; twisting the tale for a feudal world view.The film tackled the impending fear of an autocratic state, effectually captured the muted and hushed notes of unspeakable violence.

With the kind of popularity thatSholay has gained over the years, protection of its authorship had to come up as a darling decision.Sholay, 3D or not, was definitely worth a revisit, and when this blueprint was close to turning into a reality, Ramesh Sippy claimed to be the ‘first owner of copyright’ of the cinematograph film and prayed to restrain the release of a 3D version of the same.

The Court observed that Ramesh Sippy was aware of a 3D version of the file prior to filing the suit but showed no objection to the same and for over four decades since the release of the film, he had not defended his rights. Moreover, the fact that Sholay was released post retirement of Ramesh Sippy from the partnership firm, the question of authorship doesn’t come into the picture.

The sphere of intellectual property witnessed judicial development in Ramesh Sippy v. Shaan Ranjeet Uttam Singh and Ors. when the High Court laid down two important principles. Firstly, the conduct of the party is relevant when copyright is asserted after a long duration from the work being first created. Secondly, the authorship of a work comes into existence only upon completion of the work.

India’s first 70mm film and a crowd-pleasing favorite, which was played for five years straight at a theatre in Mumbai, was merchandised on everything ranging from clothes to stationery and in 2002 topped a British Film Institute poll of Indian cinema; contributed its share to the law of the land too.