The Case of the Growling Rowling!


In Kolkata, one particular pandal bore close resemblance to Hogwarts castle from the Harry Potter movies. Harry Potter and friends and the Hogwarts Express train also featured in the pandal. Little did the pandal organizers expect author J K Rowling and producers Warner Brothers to sue them!

Pandal organizer: This is not just a pandal, this is social service, in celebration of children returning to reading!
J K Rowling: Ban that pandal! Copyright infringement! Compensation!
Pandal organizer: Only this once…never again! We promise.
J K Rowling: Grrr! Copyright infringements brings out the Kali in me.


Will it be copyright infringement to design a set bearing substantial resemblance to one in a movie, without permission from the copyright holder? If a set design is a reproduction of a movie image, there will be an infringement.

Who can be sued for infringement? The set designer and the theatre group producer can be held liable.

Also read Sections 14, 51 and 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957

Spotlight on Theatre:

Movie inspired sets are not too uncommon today. There may even be a wish to have an identical set! Googling for images is the extent of 'research' in many cases. Coupled with the current technical possibilities of set construction, you may unwittingly or wantonly stray into copyright area. A casual blog from a fan on the fantastic recreation is usually where the copyright watchdogs get to know of the infringement.

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

Research is for reference and inspiration, go and make your own interpretation. If you are indeed copying, the question to ask is whether your ‘model’ is from an author or set designer’s imagination or if it is drawn from existing landmarks. Referring to your ‘model’ in your publicity material, will certainly attract notoriety. It is an impossible secret to keep, anyway. And it would beat the purpose, right?