The Mystery of the Twisted Film


In 1975, noted film maker, Anand Patwardhan made a documentary film Waves of Revolution about the students revolt in Bihar led by Jaya Prakash Narayan. This was telecast in 1977 by Doordarshan. Many years later, another documentary film titled 26th June 1975 was made for Doordarshan by their employee. Extracts from Patwardhan's film was inserted without Mr.Patwardhan's permission or knowledge. Patwardhan filed a suit in the Bombay High Court for copyright infringement.

Patwardhan: Not only have you used my footage but you've twisted it to say just the opposite of what I believe in. This calls for a defamation suit too!
D.D employee: I just took from DD archives! I didn't know it was from your film! And, the Bihar movement being part of history does not carry copyright.
Court: Wrong DD! This is copyright infringement as it's a 'cut and paste' job! You just have the licence from Mr. Patwardhan to telecast his film at the rate of Rs. 500/-per hour -without abridgment or taking excerpts from it. Does not mean the whole film is assigned to you. So while the film can be used as research or for dissemination of information, it cannot be used in another person's film.
Doordarshan: Oops, we seem to have slipped!
Court: A slip is always painful. Let us show you! Doordarshan, pay damages of Rs.10 lakhs for infringement and no more screening of the film 26th June 1975 with any stills / shots / images from the film Waves of Revolution.


Will you be infringing copyright if you include certain scenes from a copyrighted film as a background? The use of a part of a copyrighted film even by way of background is not allowed. However use of the image of a sculpture, painting, drawing, photograph or other artistic work is allowed, even without permission, if the copyrighted work is permanently situated in public place.

If you are not aware that material used is covered by copyright will you still be liable for copyright infringement? Yes, you will be liable even if you are not aware that the material being used is covered by copyright.

What is an assignment? An assignment is an exclusive transfer, in writing, of partial or complete rights of copyright to another.

What is a licence? Licence is an authorisation to exercise one or more rights. A licence can be exclusive or non-exclusive, oral or written and voluntary or compulsory. A voluntary licence is a contract between the copyright holder and licensee. A compulsory licence can be obtained from Copyright Board by any person to republish, translate and perform a work that is been withheld from the public.

Can an author object to distortion of work after transferring copyright? Yes, an author can object to distortion of her work. Under the Copyright Law, an author will continue to hold moral rights even after transfer of copyright. The author also has the right to attribution, i.e, right to claim authorship.

Spotlight on Theatre:

There is an increasing use of projections on stage. Video footage is expensive to create and often we are tempted to use and do use existing footage. This holds true for music as well. However such usage may not be fair, unless it is presented as study or criticism. Technically, there is no 'safe' length you can use. Often, we also cut, modify and rearrange the work differently from the original.

Best Practices or Quick, Tell Me How to Avoid Conflict!

Be aware of how you transfer your right. Be careful of the mode of transfer. Remember that you continue to hold moral rights over your work even after transfer of copyright. Be cautious of using copyrighted material either as background or as part of the play. That 'original composition' you are paying for maybe from Star Wars or The Dark Side of the Moon. Double check with a music buff!


Mumbai High Court -Anand Patwardhan Vs. The Director General, Directorate General of Doordarshan & Others. To read the full text of the above judgement, follow the link.

Also read Sections 18,19,30, 31 and 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957