Time for fair play

Written by Renuka Bisht | Renuka Bisht | Updated: Aug 31 2008, 06:26am hrs
True to its murky reputation, there is no copyright protection to be found in Afghanistan. Elsewhere though, from Argentina to the EU, from Israel to Ghana, film producers copyrights last 70 years after their death. But Indian producers lose their copyrights just 60 years from their films release. To rub salt into their wounds, other artists rights are quite liberal, extending 60 years after their death.

Take the example of BR Chopra, whose first film from his own production house was Naya Daur. The legendary producer, happily still alive, will lose copyrights to the film in 2017. The films composer OP Nayyar died last year, but his heirs will continue to enjoy copyrights up to 2067. As Ficci president Saroj Kumar Poddar wrote in his letter to the Human Resource Development minister, it is ironical that rights of a composer (hired by the producer) supercede the rights of the producer.

Contrast this to the fate of a Hollywood film released in the same year as Naya Daur, 1957. Starring the powerful Marilyn Monroe-Laurence Olivier duo, The Prince and the Showgirl was produced by the legendary actor himself. Although Olivier died back in 1989, his heirs will continue to reap copyright revenues at least up to 2060.

Yash Chopra, vice-president of the Film Producers Guild and chairman of the FICCI entertainment committee, has argued: In the era where newer technological distribution networks are continuously opening up, the copyright term should be conducive to preserve, digitalise and distribute existing works.

Hiren Gada, who is the entertainment director of Shemaroo (that has cross-media rights to 1,200 films) and also a member of the Producers Guild, confirms Chopras line: As per existing legislation, more and more of our classics are going to exit the copyright domain every year now. Once producers start losing their stake in the revenues accruing from these films, what is their motivation for keeping them alive, for protecting, restoring, reviving and marketing them

Gada adds, We are at a crucial crossroads right now, awakening a new generation to classics like Awaara. Really, the government should be subsidising our efforts to keep Indias cinematic heritage alive and in good shape. But all we are asking for is the protection of our rights in line with international standards. As a clinching argument, Gada offers: Think about it, even Sholay is set to exit copyright protection by 2035, even though its producer GP Sippy died just this December. In the US, Sippys heirs would continue to get revenues off the film till 2077. Given all the ways in which Bollywood already struggles against Hollywood, why do our policies weigh it down even further

Chopra also says that we are at a crossroads. Sure, there are a lot of classics that didnt do well at the time of their release. But new technologies and audiences mean that they can finally reap rewards now, post-partum so to speak. Alternative revenue sources and distribution streams are just beginning to open up and expand; these just were not around 60 years ago.

Internationally, the cultural copyright battle is being fought on many fronts. Rock icon Paul McCartney, for example, who is set to lose the rights to his classic recordings soon, has been fighting to get them extended by 20 years. Cliff Richards and U2 have also supported the demand to extend the copyright term.

If the EU parliament approves this demand, as it is expected to do as the European Commission has proposed the same, this will not be without precedent. In 1998, the US Congress extended both author and coporate copyrights by at least 20 years. At that time, the ruling was put down to Disneys aggressive lobbying campaign, and the new legislation dubbed the Mickey Mouse Act. If McCartney gets his way, we will be celebrating The Beatles Protection Act.

As in the Disney case, what should give the Indian producers hope is the general proximity and goodwill between our filmmakers and politicians. The latest one hears from Ficci is that the government is looking at the producers request quite favourably. If a new legislation does come into being, it will benefit not just the hotshots but also all the rest of our filmmakers, which is a similar argument to the one that the likes of McCartney have made, that their demands also address the needs of invisible members of the culture industry all the musicians, engineers and marginal players whose names appear in the smallest of fonts in the credits.