The Case of the Puppet that Pops up Twice


'Moon', an international theatre group, requested an artist to create a puppet for their play to be staged in 10 countries for a handsome sum. The puppet was a central character in the play. The artist then created another puppet for a different theatre group using the same mould. The international group sued the artist for infringement of copyright.

Theatre group: This is, by right, our puppet! How can you recreate it for another group?
Puppeteer: Hello! This is my style of making puppets. I make them from my design and moulds.
Theatre group: Not on!
Court: While the puppet belongs to the theatre group, the mould belongs to the artist. As long as variations are maintained, the artist can create any number of puppets!


Can the artist use her mould made for a commissioned work? Yes, the artist can use her sketch without repeating or imitating the main design of the copyrighted work. While the commissioned work alone will belong to the group, the artist has the right to use her drawings, mould, cast, model, sketch or study made by her for the purpose of the work.

Also read Section 52(1)(v) of the Copyright Act, 1957

Spotlight on Theatre:

In the world of commissioned work, exclusivity is negotiated. Most artists have certain basic designs, structures or tunes they work from. Their whole artistry is in bringing out infinite variations of a theme. Stopping that would be to deprive the artist of any avenue of work in the future. If you were rich you could buy a Mercedes, if you wanted. If you desire a one of a kind, it would be hugely more expensive. But, if you'd like Mercedes to stop producing your model, think how expensive that would be. But a puppet is not a car. What defines a puppet is how it is brought to life. Incarnated may be the right word. And here, the puppeteer is as important as the puppet.

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

If you wish exclusivity for your puppet, set, properties or costumes, do negotiate it beforehand. Two works from the same artist are, however, bound to have a certain discernible degree of similarity. Feel free to use your sketch, mould even if you do not have copyright over your work, but be sure that you do not imitate or repeat the main design of the copyrighted work. Copyright, in commissioned work, will rest with the producer. Do not claim copyright over an artist's style.