The Mannu Bhandari Case: a contemplation
Mannu Bhandari's suit against M/s Kala Vikas Pictures (Pvt.) Ltd raised several questions before the Intellectual Property regime surrounding Section 57 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957. This article aims to discuss the issues put forth in this case alongside the concept of moral rights as perceived by the copyright regime. The case of Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures Ltd was the first case to have been appeared before the court in relation to moral rights dispute. Although the case got settled outside the court, judgment was passed by the Delhi High Court taking into consideration that there existed no case before the courts which involved interpretation of Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957
The hallmark of any culture has been the excellence of arts and literature. A healthy environment and adequate protection are what art requires the most. The protection which law offers is thus not the protection of the artist or author alone, it includes social interest as well. Section 57 of the Copyright Act is a fine example of such legal protection. It lifts authors' status beyond the material gains of copyright and gives it a special status. Under Section 57 the author shall have a right to claim the authorship of the work along with a right to restrain the infringement or to claim damages for any such infringement. These rights are independent of the author's, copyright and the remedies open to the author under Section 55. Thus, in other words, Section 57 confers additional rights on the author of a literary work as compared to the owner of general copyright.
Facts of the case
Mannu Bhandari, the author of the Hindi novel "Aap Ka Bunty" complaint of distortion, and mutation of her novel by the defendant, Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt Ltd. by means of their produced film, "Samay Ki Dhara". The petitioner, Mannu Bhandari who being the original author of her book was vested with exclusive copyright on the same that included the right to make a cinematograph film based on her novel. The cinematographic rights in the novel were assigned to the defendant by the petitioner in April 1983 for a consideration of Rs. 15,000. In the agreement signed between the petitioner and the defendant, it was agreed that the petitioner would allow the defendant to make modifications in the novel after discussing the same with the author so as to make a successful film.
The contention of the plaintiff
The plaintiff, Mannu Bhandari had several verbal allegations against the defendant from the very beginning after the assignment of rights. Apart from the verbal allegations made, it was realized that there existed considerable common ground, which if explored, would bring the parties to an amicable settlement. In spite of this, the plaintiff, being a committed author, had insisted that she would like the Court to resolve the question of the rights of the authors authoritatively, as issues with similar trends were repeatedly being faced by the authors and lack of any judicial precedent made things worse. She pleaded for a permanent injunction against the screening and exhibition of the film produced by the defendant.
The contention of the defendant
The defendant, Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt Ltd contended that the plaintiff had filed the concerned suit with mala fide intention of extracting more money, that had been paid according to the contract entered with the distributor from the defendant. The defendant further mentioned his grievance which was that they had made a huge investment and have entered into contracts with the distributors and if the plaintiff's prayer was granted, the same would cause severe loss to the defendant. The arguments placed before the court of law by the counsel of the defendant are presented hereunder;
Clause (b) of the contract entered between the plaintiff and the defendant permitted modifications to be made by the director. after discussions with the author. The same was carried out and the plaintiff had agreed to the said modifications.
Counsel further submitted that the restraint order in the nature of injunction under Section 57 could be passed only when there has been literary reproduction if the said novel was published with impermissible changes the publisher could be restrained but where the film was produced based on the novel, no restraint order could be passed under Section 57.
Observations made by the court
The observations made by the Delhi High Court have been pointed out below;
While the author of the novel had objected to the name of the film, the court held that the title 'Samay Ki Dhara' was general enough to suggest any social issue that the Indian society had been suffering. In order to make the title specific, a direct reference to 'Bunty', as provided in the novel name was necessary. Therefore, the producer should alter the title of the film in such a way that the title 'Samay Ki Dhara' and 'Aap'Ka Bunty' are included.
The author had objected that the film involved mutilation of the characters by means of vulgar dialogues. The court rejected this claim on the ground that the director of the film was free to make the film whatever way he wanted to.
Taking into consideration these two changes, the court directed the film to be screened.
A ray of hope for the concept of moral rights
This landmark judgment draws a fine line between licensed exploitation and infringement which helped the courts to deal with moral rights cases in the future. It also acts as a guideline for authors to sue the infringers on the ground of moral rights exploitation.
The original judgment is available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/331111/