In May 2020, the Amitabh Bachchan starrer film – ‘Jhund’, met with controversy when Nandi Chinni Kumar, a Hyderabadi filmmaker alleged copyright infringement of the film. ‘Jhund’ is based on the life of Akhilesh Paul. It is claimed that Paul sold the ‘exclusive rights to his story of becoming a slum-footballer Kumar, who was going to make a biopic, titled ‘Slum Soccer’, based on Paul’s life.
The pertaining question here is, what is the legal framework surrounding such ‘exclusive rights and what are they?
The ‘exclusive rights’ referred to above are the exclusive rights to one’s personality rights. Personality right is a right one has over their personality. They are absolute and inalienable rights that are not limited by time and are primarily, only exercisable by the holder of such right/PCT filing in India.
Personality rights in India
Personality rights are often attributed as ‘celebrity rights’ they are enforced mostly by public figures or celebrities who have prominence in society and who are identifiable by their work or contributions. For instance, in 2011, the late politician, Mr. Arun Jaitely filed a suit seeking a permanent injunction against the defendants for creating the domain name “www.arunjaitely.com”. It was contended that the defendants had attempted to profit from the unlawful use of the plaintiff’s name on their domain name. The Delhi High Court while granting the permanent injunction observed that the name of Mr. Arun Jaitely, apart from being a personal name, has attained a “distinctive indicia of its own” due to its distinctiveness and popularity in the field of politics, advocacy, etc., which gives him the personal right to sue for misuse of his name/best copyright lawyers in Delhi
The Delhi High Court had previously expounded on the right of publicity. It observed that the right to publicity has evolved from the right to privacy, and it can exist only in an individual’s personality and that an individual may acquire this right by the virtue of his association with an event or work. It added that the right to publicity subsists only in the person and not in the work or event or with the organizers of such event. In various judgments, Courts have attributed the right to personality to public figures, or “celebrities” as they are referred to in common parlance.
In the case of Titan Industries Ltd. v. M/s Ramkumar Jewellers, the Delhi High Court laid down the criteria to ascertain who a celebrity is. The three criteria are:
- Unaided identification
- Context of defendant’s use
- Direct or circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s intent
Personality rights in the context of copyright.
The Copyright Act protects original work and grants the author of such work certain exclusive and economic rights over such work. While no particular provision of the Copyright Act is directly attributable to personality rights, performers and authors of the work are accorded certain rights. Performers’ rights are given under Section 38 of the Act. Along with economic rights, performers have certain moral rights which enables them to (i) “claimed to be identified as the performer of his performance”, and (ii) “restrain or claim damages against any distortion, mutilation or any other modification of his performance that would be prejudicial to his reputation”. Further, authors are also granted special rights that allow them to claim authorship of the copyrighted work, in addition to restraining or claiming damages in case of any mutilation or distortion of their work/copyright registration lawyers in Delhi.
The case of Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India is a landmark judgment that was delivered by the Delhi High Court which upheld the moral rights of the author of a work under the Copyright Act. The dispute arose when Amarnath Sehgal, a renowned Indian sculptor had made a mural that was displayed in the lobby of the Vigyan Bhawan in the national capital. However, after almost two decades the mural was uninstalled from the lobby and was placed in the storeroom without the permission of Mr. Sehgal. Mr. Sehgal alleged infringement of his moral rights over his work.