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The Mystery of Vanishing Rights

Situation:

A well known theatre group had auditions for casting lead characters in their play for which over 150 actors auditioned. A television film director happened to see the recording of the auditions and obtained a copy. Two months later, a few actors who had auditioned were horrified to see themselves in a television comedy show. Snippets of the recording had obviously been used!

Actors: Not on! If you like our acting, you hire us! Not use our improvisations for another purpose and that too by someone else! We'll sue the television show producer and the theatre group.


Situation:

Neha Bhasin, a play back singer went for an audition. Months later, she heard the piece on a radio channel and realized that it had been used without her permission. She also found that her name was mentioned as the background vocalist and the producer of the movie was credited as the lead vocalist.

Neha Bhasin: That's my voice…that's my name on the CD but I'm not the background vocalist!!! I'll sue the film producer!
The music director: Hmmm not so! We didn't even want to use your voice. It was a recording mistake!
The Court: A costly mistake. You've used her voice, now pay up royalty! And recall all the CDs with her voice.


Law:

Do actors have special rights? Under the Indian Copyright law, actors, singers, musicians, dancers, et al are called performers and they have special rights called performers' rights or neighbouring rights. No sound/video recording can be made without the performer's consent.

Can the actor/ musician sue the producer for using the recording of their auditions? Yes, the actors can sue the producer of the television show for using the recording. If permission has been given only for purposes of audition, the recording cannot be put to any other use.

Is the theatre group also liable? Though the theatre group may have unwittingly handed over the recording to the producer, they are still liable.

Does an actor have copyright over her performance after she has consented to the recording? If an actor consents to a visual or sound recording of her performance, she loses all rights except the moral rights over the performance. However, the Court has held in Neha Bhasin's case, that the singer must be compensated and acknowledged.


Spotlight on Theatre:

Auditions and even performances are regularly videographed. Audience members sometimes shoot performances on their mobile phones. These “cinematographs” may be broadcast or mobcast without permission. Shot in less than ideal conditions, the footage invariably shows the performer up in bad light. It can easily bring disrepute to an actor or a production.


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

The director and producer must ensure that any audio-visual recording is not used for purposes other than it was originally meant for. We work without written contracts most of the time, therefore it is doubly important to ensure that the trust of the performers is not misplaced. We don't desire to police our audiences; but they need to be informed about how mobcasting can affect real lives. Your pre-performance announcement may be the ideal moment for this.