The Kuchipudi style and copyright: a new friendship
Copyright on dance forms is not a new domain of discussion, rather what is new about the domain is that it is gradually becoming more acceptable in the eyes of law. Dance forms in India fall under the category of choreographic works explained under Section 2(h) of the Copyright Act, 1957, hence the availability of protection has never been an issue. A few days back on 2nd July 2021, a District Court of Thiruvananthapuram ordered Facebook to remove the content that amounted to infringement of Late Vempati Ravi Shankar, a former notable Kuchipudi dancer's work. With technology gradually encroaching upon the moral rights of the original creator resulting in grave concern, this judgment establishes a firm stand of the existing legislation to address these concerns.
Background of the case
Late Vempati Ravi Shankar, a famous Kuchipudi dancer had created dance moves, sound recordings, and dramatization of both of these in several plays in Kuchipudi. After he passed away, his wife, Priyanka Vempati Ravi Shankar was responsible for carrying forward his legacy by means of his institute, Sri Vempati Ravi Shankar School of Kuchipudi. Further, she had been granted copyright for four original sound recording compositions of her husband. What made her knock on the doors of the court of law was because some people with unknown identities claiming to be associated with Kuchipudi have been involved in unauthorized usage of the copyrighted works and publishing the mutilated and distorted form of the original work on social media platforms, thereby causing a violation of the plaintiff's moral rights. Among them, while YouTube had taken down the content contributing to the infringement of the concerned copyright, no such signs were visible on the part of Facebook. Therefore, the petition submitted sought a permanent prohibitory injunction to restrain Facebook from infringing the concerned copyright. The suit also requested an injunction to prohibit usage of the title "Vempati Ravi Shankar" without the written authorization of the plaintiff.
The court granted a temporary injunction thereby directing Facebook to take down the infringing content. The ground on which such temporary injunction was granted was Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 that lays down the concept of moral rights of original creators.
This is not the first case where copyright violation on Kuchipudi dance form came before the court of law rather such instance was also seen by means of a Writ Petition that was filed before the Kerala High Court by a famed Kuchipudi dancer, Anupama Mohan, claiming exploitation of the Copyright Act, 1957 by the State Government by means of its act of selling the copyrights by performance during the Kerala School Youth Festival in State, District, Sub-District and School, without authorization. The celebrated fact in both these instances is the level of awareness among the artists concerning their art. In a form of art, there exist several minute things that are capable enough to be protected under the copyright regime but get shadowed. The suit of this present case interestingly highlighted that several personal attributes such as stage name, picture, style, history, signature, and many others, are responsible for contributing to a unique personality of a celebrity, and each of such traits deserves protection.