LEGALITY OF ADAPTING A NOVEL INTO A SERIES/MOVIE

We all binge watch on Netflix, Prime Video and many other apps. There are so many options, we are literally spoilt with choices. Doesn’t it become more exciting if the movie or series is adapted from your favorite book? Nowadays we come across many series and movies that are adapted from a book. The famous series “YOU” is adapted from Caroline Kepnes’ thriller book. Gossip Girl is also adapted from Cecily Von Ziegeser’s book series which portrayed the friendship of Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldrof.

Adaptation under the Copyright Act,1957:

Adaptation is defined under section 2(a)(ii) as follows:

(a) “adaptation” means,-

(ii) in relation to a literary work or an artistic work, the conversion of the work into a dramatic work by way of performance in public or otherwise;

The adaptation of work is covered by section 14(a) (vi) [1] of the Copyright Act, 1957. This right provided by the Copyright Act,1957 gives complete control and authority to the author so as to how their work would be reproduced. The author may assign his work to anyone he deems fit to remake the books into a movie or series. [2]

What is the procedure of adapting a book into movie or series?

As per Section 30 of the Act, the author of the copyright can assign the rights over his work to another, via a valid License Agreement. Thus, the author has the sole rights to hand over the rights of the work through a valid license agreement to a third party.

How is infringement of copyright recognized in case the book is adapted without a valid license from the author of the book?

Now, the definition of copy was never mentioned in Copyright Act,1911 or Copyright Act,1957. But the High Court of Calcutta laid down some standards in Barbara Taylor Bradford vs. Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd.[3] to determine what is considered to be copy of work in paragraph 45 and 46.

          “Thus, the position appears to be that an idea, principle, theme or subject-matter or historical or legendary facts being common property cannot be the subject-matter of copyright of a particular person. It is always open to any person to choose an idea as a subject-matter and develop it in his own manner and give expression to the idea by treating it differently from others….

…Thus, the fundamental fact which has to be determined where a charge of violation of the copyright is made by the plaintiff against the defendant is to determine whether or not the defendant not only adopted the idea of the copyrighted work but has also adopted the manner, arrangement, situation to situation, scene to scene with minor changes or super additions or embellishment here and there….

Care, however, must be taken to see whether the defendant has merely disguised piracy or has actually reproduced the original in a different form, different tone, different tenor so as to infuse a new life into the idea of the copyrighted work adapted by him. In other words, in order to be actionable, the copy must be a substantial and material one which at once leads to the conclusion that the defendant is guilty of an act of piracy.

One of the surest and safest tests to determine whether or not there has been a violation of copyright is to see if the reader, spectator or viewer after 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. Where the theme is the same but is presented and treated differently so that the subsequent work becomes a completely new work, no question of violation of copyright arises.”

The Language of Bayley, J. in West V. Francies (5B, and Aid. 737) comes nearer to a definition of what constitutes copying than anything which is to be found in the books’. It runs thus :–

‘A copy is that which comes so near to the original as to give to every person seeing it the idea created by the original’.

The above case of Barbara Taylor Bradford vs. Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd. also goes ahead to describe what is not the infringement of copyright by citing Hollinrake v. Truswell 1894 Ch. 420[4] where Lord Justice Lindley said:

“The defendant may have got her own idea from the plaintiff’s chart, but the Defendant has not copied more than the plaintiff’s method of measuring. Copyright, however, does not extend to ideas, or schemes, or systems, or methods; it is confined to their expression; and if their expression is not copied the copyright is not infringed. The case of Baker V. Selden, already referred to, illustrates this very well. It was there held that the author of a system of book-keeping was not entitled to any monopoly in the system, but was only entitled to prevent the other persons from copying his description of it….” (p. 426)

Hence copyright of a mere idea is not an infringement of copyright.

Conclusion:

We ultimately need more stringent laws to protect the original work of these creative writers. It is not just about their copyright being infringed but also about their time and effort being wasted as they are not credited for the noteworthy and original work of theirs.


[1] Section 14 (a) (vi) to make any adaptation of the work

[2] Sharmeen Shaikh, India: Adaptation v/s Copyright Infringement, Mondaq (21 February 2019), https://www.mondaq.com/india/copyright/783560/adaptation-vs-copyright-infringement

[3] Barbara Taylor Bradford vs. Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd. (16.07.2003 – CALHC) : MANU/WB/0106/2003

[4] Ibid, Paragraph 107

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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