Intellectual Property Rights and the Indian Film Industry

calendar27 Sep, 2023
timeReading Time: 10 Minutes
Intellectual Property Rights and the Indian Film Industry

Film-making, often described as the art of crafting movies, follows a non-linear methodology rooted in its practical origins. The stages of filmmaking encompass the initial spark of a story idea, the development of a screenplay, casting, the actual filming, sound recording, pre-production planning, meticulous editing, and ultimately, the presentation of the finished product during its screening.

Intellectual Property, conversely, arises from the application and commercialization of human intellect, encompassing a broad spectrum of human creations such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and distinctive symbols or images used in commerce. Despite its intangible nature, intellectual property rights in India are vested with legal rights similar to those of tangible assets. These rights empower the owner to derive commercial benefits from their creative endeavours. It’s important to note that mere ideas, devoid of expression, do not qualify as intellectual property and consequently do not warrant protection or rights. Protection is only granted when an idea takes tangible form, whether as a product, service, business model, literary or artistic work, among other manifestations.

Much like every art form, films hold a distinctive and abstract quality, offering a one-of-a-kind emotional experience and thus IPR in film industry is crucial. Yet, the process of bringing a film to life is a complex endeavour involving a multitude of stakeholders. The Indian Entertainment Industry, in particular, ranks among the world’s largest, delivering nearly 2,000 films each year across almost 20 different languages.

Intellectual Property Rights in India can be broadly categorized into Copyright, Trademark, Patents, and Design Rights. Within the Entertainment Industry, a notable challenge revolves around the infringement of these aforementioned rights, resulting in legal disputes. A common and pervasive example of Intellectual Property Rights violation within this domain is piracy.

Intellectual Property Rights and the Indian Film Industry

Copyright Law

Copyright Law encompasses all forms of artistic and literary creations, collectively known as “Works.” As per the definition of copyright under Section 14 of the Copyright Act, 1957[1], it is the exclusive right over the content or work and the right to do or authorize the doing of certain acts in work. This legal framework aims to protect against the unauthorized use of artistic, literary, and musical works, including songs, films, and novels.

In Indian Film Industry, copyright law, a fundamental principle is that copyright protection extends exclusively to expressions of ideas, not the ideas themselves. Indian filmmakers often rely on this distinction to argue that when they borrow or adapt from the original work of another creator, they are not infringing on copyright because they are using their own expression of the underlying idea. This issue highlights an ongoing challenge in copyright disputes: defining the boundary that separates ideas from their expressions. This distinction is often so delicate that even the legal system has grappled with providing a definitive and universally applicable formula to distinguish between the two.

In the case of Krishika Lulla & Ors v Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta & Anr[1], the defendants

alleged that the plaintiffs had copied the title of their original work “Desi Boys” and violated their copyright in the title by releasing their own creation with the name “Desi Boyz.” However, the court, when examining the definition of a literary work in this instance, rejected the idea of extending copyright protection to movie titles, deeming them too trivial and inconsequential to warrant legal safeguarding under copyright law.

Moreover, another reason for denying copyright protection to movie titles stems from the legal principle known as “de minimis non-curat lex,” which signifies that the law does not concern itself with trifles. This principle is well-recognized in Indian Copyright Law. An example of this can be seen in the Madras High Court case of M/S Lyca Productions vs. J Manimaran[2], where the court rejected a copyright claim over the movie title “Karu” on the same basis. The court asserted that originality and innovation are fundamental elements of a movie title, and the absence of these qualities disqualifies them from copyright protection. This analysis underscores the exclusion of copyright protection for movie titles under the Indian Copyright Act of 1957.

Additionally, characters in cinematograph films have become a focal point of debate in copyright protection. There’s a growing trend of granting intellectual property protection to characters. For example, names like Gabbar Singh, Basanti, and Thakur, as well as iconic names associated with actors like Prem for Salman Khan and Rahul for Shahrukh Khan, have evolved to the extent that they possess distinct and recognizable attributes, justifying copyright protection.

Trademark Law

Trademarks represent a crucial facet of intellectual property rights, allowing individuals and businesses to maintain ownership over their innovative products and creative endeavours. A trademark is essentially a name, word, or symbol that serves to distinguish one entity’s goods or services from those of others in the market. The trademark holder possesses the exclusive right to prevent competitors from using the same mark or symbol. Film companies, for instance, utilize trademarks as a strategic tool to establish a distinctive identity in a competitive market, as exemplified by Dharma Productions’ registered word trademark under Karan Johar’s ownership. Analysing the definition of ‘marks’ as outlined in the Indian Trademarks Act of 1999, it becomes apparent that movie titles, as long as they can be distinguished from one another, are undoubtedly encompassed within the scope of trademarks.

In the landmark case of Sholay Media Entertainment v. Yogesh Patel[3], the plaintiffs, creators of the iconic film ‘Sholay,’ took legal action against the defendants, members of the Patel Family. The defendants had registered the domain ‘www.sholay.com,’ published a magazine under the same name, and sold merchandise featuring elements from the movie ‘Sholay.’ The core issue was the protection of the plaintiffs’ registered trademark ‘Sholay.’ The Delhi High Court ruled that ‘Sholay,’ deeply linked to the film’s title, deserved protection, as it had become exclusively associated with the movie, transcending its dictionary meaning. The court granted relief to the filmmakers and barred the defendants from using any film-related material or the name ‘SHOLAY.’ This case highlighted the critical role of trademark protection in the entertainment industry for preserving brand identity and recognition.

As can be inferred, movie titles can be protected under the trademark act provided there is some inherent or acquired distinctiveness in the title. The Trademarks Act, 1999 clearly states that marks that have such a probability of interconnection between them which leads to confusion in the minds of the general public regarding the uniqueness of the trademark, shall not be protected under the Act.


Designs encompass the visual appearance of a product, offering protection for the entire product, specific components, or decorative elements. In the realm of filmmaking, costumes hold significant importance as they contribute to a performer’s visual portrayal. Costume designers are typically tasked with creating outfits that align with the character, storyline, setting, and era of the film. This bespoke approach often results in unique and exclusive designs. In cases where a design is genuinely distinctive, it can qualify for protection under both the Copyright Act of 1957 and the Designs Act of 2000. This dual protection ensures the safeguarding of creative and one-of-a-kind costume designs in the film industry.


A patent represents a legal privilege granted to an individual for their invention, bestowing the authority to prevent others from utilizing their concept without permission. Once an invention secures a patent, the inventor enjoys a 20-year span to exercise control over its use, encompassing activities like selling, using, distributing, making, importing, or exporting it. Within the entertainment sector, patents are frequently deployed to safeguard technological innovations relevant to content production or delivery. Filmmaking, inherently innovative and captivating, harmonizes diverse audio, visual, and editing tools to engage audiences artistically. Patents constitute the bedrock supporting technological advancements across industries. Film production, a multifaceted venture, necessitates substantial investments to ensure excellence in facets like editing, special effects, sound engineering, and lighting, underscoring the industry’s reliance on technological progress.

IPR violation in the entertainment/film industry

Certainly, the Indian film industry, particularly Bollywood, has achieved remarkable success, setting new milestones in the world of cinema. Bollywood movies consistently generate significant revenue, and this success extends to South Indian and regional cinema as well. This growth has been comprehensive, encompassing all facets of filmmaking, leading to a 360-degree development.

In recent years, there has been a notable shift towards movies that tackle hard-hitting social realities, effectively serving as a mirror reflecting society’s truths. This shift is exemplified by films such as “Love, Sex, and Dhoka,” “Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Swades,” “Ankho Dekhi,” “D-Day,” “Talaash,” “Lunch Box,” “Ugly,” “I am Kalaam,” “Khosla ka Ghosla,” “Children of War,” and others. These thought-provoking movies have earned both national and international acclaim, captivating audiences with their compelling narratives. They have created space for quality content, inspiring talented filmmakers to explore unconventional and socially relevant stories, catering to audiences seeking “out of the box” cinema.

These films have significantly contributed to elevating the reputation of the Indian entertainment industry, enhancing its name and fame on the global stage. Titles like “Sarabjit,” “Queen,” “Dangal,” and “Bombay Talkies” have left a lasting impact on cinephiles worldwide.

In the notable case of “Sanjay Kumar Gupta v. Sony Picture Networks India Pvt. Ltd[4].,” the appellant alleged copyright infringement by Sony Network, citing similarities between their game show “KBC” and the appellant’s own show, “Jeeto Unlimited.” In the latter, participants received gifts for answering quiz questions. However, the court ruled in favor of the respondent, stating that engaging the audience is a consistent practice, and answering questions on screen is fundamentally distinct from the appellant’s claims.

However, alongside this remarkable growth, the industry has encountered challenges, including piracy and copyright infringement, which continue to pose threats to these innovative genres of filmmaking. Despite increasingly stringent intellectual property rights laws in flim industry, these issues persist. Fortunately, efforts have been made, such as the formulation of new rules and regulations and the emergence of organizations dedicated to preserving the originality and integrity of Indian cinema.


In the present landscape, it has become imperative for all stakeholders in the entertainment industry to prioritize the preservation of originality and creativity in their content. This entails not only a thorough understanding of intellectual property rules but also a keen awareness of the various types of infringements and the evolving legislative landscape. Such knowledge is pivotal not only for safeguarding individual intellectual property rights but also for the overall health and sustainability of the industry as a whole.

By enhancing their comprehension of IPR in film industry, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and designs, participants in the entertainment sector can not only shield their intellectual assets but also explore inventive avenues for collaboration, licensing, and monetization of content. This proactive approach not only safeguards the industry’s longevity but also positions it for growth amid the rapid technological changes and evolving consumer preferences of the contemporary era.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the 7 intellectual property rights in India?

Intellectual Property Rights encompass a wide range of legal protections, comprising patents, copyrights, industrial design rights, trademarks, plant variety rights, trade dress, geographical indications, and, in specific jurisdictions, trade secrets.

What is the role of intellectual property rights in India?

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in India serve several vital roles, including promoting innovation and creativity, attracting investment, supporting economic growth in sectors like technology and entertainment, protecting traditional knowledge, facilitating global trade, preventing counterfeiting and piracy, and balancing public interest. These rights play a crucial role in both safeguarding intellectual assets and fostering economic development in the country.

Are movies considered intellectual property?

Yes, movies are indeed considered a form of intellectual property. They are protected by copyright laws, which grant creators exclusive rights over their films, including the rights to reproduce, distribute, and display them. This protection allows filmmakers and studios to control and benefit from their work while preventing unauthorized use or reproduction by others. Additionally, movies may also involve other forms of intellectual property, such as trademarks, particularly in relation to branding and associated merchandise.

What is not included in intellectual property?

Certainly, intellectual property primarily covers intangible creations, but it generally does not include physical objects like tangible goods such as cars or furniture. Moreover, intellectual property doesn’t protect facts and ideas themselves but rather their specific expressions. Natural phenomena and scientific principles are considered part of the public domain and aren’t subject to intellectual property rights. Titles and short phrases, while potentially protected as trademarks in some cases, often don’t qualify for copyright protection. Works created by government employees in their official capacity are typically in the public domain. Additionally, intellectual property law requires a certain level of originality and creativity, so unoriginal or mundane creations may not be eligible for protection.

What is copyright infringement and example?

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use, reproduction, distribution, or display of a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner. For example, if someone takes a photograph from a website and uses it in their own project without obtaining the photographer’s consent or a proper license, it constitutes copyright infringement. Similarly, downloading and sharing copyrighted music or movies without authorization from the rights holders is another common form of copyright infringement. It’s essential to respect copyright laws and obtain the necessary permissions or licenses when using copyrighted material to avoid legal consequences.

What is copyright infringement in Indian film industry?

Copyright infringement within the Indian film industry refers to the unauthorized utilization, duplication, distribution, or public display of copyrighted content without the explicit consent of the copyright owner. This issue presents itself in various forms: i. Piracy: This involves the unlawful reproduction and dissemination of films, often through unauthorized DVDs, illegal streaming platforms, or peer-to-peer networks. ii. Unapproved Remakes and Adaptations: Creating films that heavily borrow from copyrighted works without obtaining the necessary licensing or permissions from the original content creators. iii. Unauthorized Distribution: This encompasses the exhibition or distribution of films without the appropriate licensing agreements or rights in place. iv. Music Copyright Violations: Using copyrighted music in films without obtaining the required licenses or permissions from composers and rights holders can also constitute copyright infringement. v. Plagiarism: When filmmakers or screenwriters copy substantial portions of another film’s script, storyline, or characters without authorization, it constitutes copyright infringement. vi. Online Unauthorized Sharing: The illicit uploading, streaming, or sharing of films on digital platforms without the approval of rights holders is an increasing concern in the digital era. These instances of copyright infringement pose significant challenges to the Indian film industry, affecting creativity, revenue streams, and the protection of intellectual property. In response, filmmakers and rights holders often resort to legal actions to combat such infringements and safeguard their creative works.

What is the role of intellectual property rights in promoting innovation in India?

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) play a pivotal role in catalyzing innovation in India. By providing legal protection and recognition to inventors, creators, and innovators, IPR incentivizes investment in research and development. This assurance that their intellectual property will be safeguarded encourages individuals, companies, and institutions to push the boundaries of knowledge and create new technologies, products, and artistic works. Robust intellectual property rights regulations also attract foreign investments and collaborations, as international entities are more inclined to engage with India when they trust the protection of their intellectual assets. Additionally, intellectual property rights fosters a culture of innovation by acknowledging the value of intellectual creations, supporting traditional knowledge preservation, and assisting small and medium-sized enterprises in protecting their innovations. Furthermore, it enables licensing, technology transfer, and collaboration, driving economic growth and reinforcing India’s position in the global innovation landscape. Ultimately, intellectual property rights serves as a cornerstone for nurturing innovation, creativity, and economic prosperity in India.

What is an example of intellectual property in media?

For instance, if a popular Bollywood film like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” is released, the rights to the script, music, and the film itself are protected by copyright. Any unauthorized use, such as making copies of the movie or using its songs in another production without proper licensing or permission, would constitute copyright infringement. Another example could be the trademark protection of a media company’s logo or name. For instance, the brand name “Sony” are trademarks that are protected under intellectual property laws in India. Unauthorized use of these trademarks in a way that could confuse consumers or dilute the brand’s value would be a violation of intellectual property rights. These examples demonstrate the significance of intellectual property in safeguarding the creative and commercial interests of media content creators and companies in India.

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