India: To Kill A Copy Cat

Last Updated: 9 September 2003

By Mohit Kapoor and Ajay Shaw

Piggy-backing on Creativity

The concept of "Plagiarism" has generated much curiosity in recent times especially in the context of the entertainment industry. The term has been defined by authors as "the act or instance of copying or stealing another’s words or ideas and attributing them as one’s own."

Recently, Barbara Taylor Bradford’s best-selling novel, A Woman of Substance, which is considered a classic in popular fiction and which was also aired on TV stations across the US as a six-hour miniseries, is once again making waves, not within the world of global fiction, but instead on the Indian television and legal circuit.

Bradford claims that the television offering, Karishma – a Miracle of Destiny is a plagiarised version of A Woman of Substance. An injunction has been granted against the broadcasters to prevent broadcast of the Rs 60-crore serial.

In another recently reported case, a company in Kolkatta has been sued by the author of the renowned Harry Potter series for unlawfully translating some of her books and selling them in the local market.

Such cases have highlighted the concept of plagiarism, and circumstances under which it would be subject to legal scrutiny. It has been reported that Bollywood has repeatedly borrowed themes and ideas from its western counterpart, including lifting scripts directly from Hollywood blockbusters and translating them into mega masala movies.

Under Indian law, the protection of intellectual creations such as works that are literary, artistic, dramatic or musical in nature are subject to protection under the Copyright Act, 1957 ("Copyright Act"). Thus, the Copyright Act is the central statute dealing with the issue of plagiarism.

Copyright Act

Copyright subsists in original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; cinematograph films. "Work" within the parameters of the Copyright Act means a literary, artistic, dramatic, musical or artistic work; a cinematograph film; and sound recording.

In essence, copyright is a bundle of rights granted to the author for his intellectual creation. This bundle of rights can be broadly classified as (i) exploitable rights and (ii) moral rights.

Exploitable Rights: A Work that is protected by copyright can be exploited commercially by the owner of the Work, or a person authorised by him. Copyright owners can reproduce an original Work, prepare derivative Works based upon it, adapt the existing Work in another form (e.g. conversion of a literary or artistic Work into a cinematographic Work, re-arrangement of a literary Work, depiction in another artistic form of the Work), translate a Work into different languages, distribute copies of it, and to display it publicly.

The owner of a cinematograph film has the exclusive right to make copies of the film, including photographs of an image forming part of a film. They may also sell or give on hire copies of the film, and broadcast the film to a public audience.

Moral Rights: The author of the Work is entitled to certain moral rights, also known as "paternity rights". Moral rights provide the author with the right of attribution in respect of a Work and grants him the right to prevent any distortion or mutilation of the Work, which is prejudicial to his honour or reputation. The moral right of the author exists even after he has assigned away his economic rights in the Work.


If anyone other than the owner or person entitled to the copyright seeks to exploit or associate himself with the Work, it constitutes infringement of copyright in the Work, which is actionable by the person entitled to the copyright. The Copyright Act however provides certain ‘fair use’ exceptions to infringement to enable the reproduction of the Work for public purposes to encourage private study and research and promote education.

Originality – The Litmus Test

From the perspective of the Copyright Act, what is essential is that the Work must be created entirely by the author i.e. the Work should be a product of the labour, skill and capital of the author, and not copied from another Work.

Indian law does not grant protection to ideas and concepts; what is protected is the expression of the idea or concept. Only if the idea is recorded in a medium will it be a subject matter of copyright protection.

The depiction in a television serial based on a book in which copyright exists, or excerpts thereof, without obtaining authorisation from the author of the book, is likely to amount to infringement of copyright. Similarly, the unauthorised translation of an existing Work could also constitute copyright infringement.

There can be no copyright in historical facts or legend, and it is always open to any person to choose such a theme as the subject matter of a Work, and develop it in his own manner and give expression to the same. Thus, one comes across several simultaneous cinematographic releases on the life of Bhagat Singh and other historical or legendary characters.

Courts in India have held that copyright is concerned with the arrangement of content i.e. - the form of expression and not the novelty of the content. A Work inspired by a copyrighted work may not result in an infringement of copyright if the theme is presented and treated differently so that the subject matter of copyright becomes a completely new Work. But, given a situation where it can be proved that while creating the product, the author has copied an essential and substantial part of the copyrighted work it could constitute infringement of copyright. Courts have also held that the test of copyright infringement ultimately centres on whether a person has copied an essential or substantial part of a copyrighted work. The substantial copying here would include both qualitative and quantitative copying of the copyrighted work such that a third person having read or seen both the Works is clearly of the opinion and gets an unmistakable impression that the subsequent Work appears to be a copy of the original.

Freeloaders Beware!

With the globalisation of the Indian entertainment industry and the explosion of several competing, round-the-clock TV channels, producers have been under pressure to generate content for the masses who seek entertainment at the push of a button. This exponential demand for content could result in producers resorting to acts which may amount to infringement of copyright of others. Given the fact that India is a signatory to several international conventions on copyright law and has in place an effective Copyright Act, creativity both in India and abroad is likely to be protected against incidents of plagiarism. The recent developments could result in the opening of floodgates for lawsuits against plagiarists, who try to profit from other’s creativity.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the firm. This article does not purport to be professional advice, nor a complete or comprehensive study on the subject. It is recommended that professional advice be sought before taking any action pursuant to any matter contained in this article.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions