The Case of a Permission on French Leave


Prithvi theatre allows a well known theatre production company to use it's auditorium, on payment of nominal charges. A day before the production, Samuel French serves Prithvi a notice, demanding that the play should not be staged as the producer or director had not taken the playwright's permission or paid any royalty. Prithvi's management are bewildered as this is the first time such a notice has been sent to them and contact the director of the play, who confirms that she had not obtained any permission. The director assures Prithvi that she will respond to the notice and that there will be no legal complications.

French: Not on! Copyright infringement!
Play producers: Er… we must say, we didn't get permission!
Prithvi: You tell me this...after 92 performances! Well act now! Or both of us are in trouble!


Is Prithvi legally liable for renting it's hall for charges for staging of a play without permission from the copyright holder? Under the Copyright Act, a space provider cannot allow their hall to be hired for performance of a play, if there is a copyright infringement.

Can a Court restrain the performance? A Court can restrain Prithvi from staging the play.

Will Prithvi be called upon to pay damages to the copyright holder? The Court can also direct them to pay damages to the copyright holder, but the amount will depend upon the profit made by the hall owner.

If the hall had been rented, without payment of charges, will Prithvi still be liable? If the hall was provided free and Prithvi were not monetarily profiting by the performance, nobody can complain of an infringement.

Would it make a difference if Prithvi had not been aware that permission had not been sought? Lack of knowledge is also a valid defense.

Also read Section 51(a)(ii) of the Copyright Act, 1957

Spotlight on Theatre:

Mutual respect, trust and understanding between members of the theatre fraternity is on the presumption that one will not land in a messy situation due to the acts of commission or omission of another. Theatre halls have no wish to police the theatre groups or act as publishers' agents.

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

It may be impractical to expect the space provider to ensure that permission has been obtained. A disclaimer could be made on the reverse of the booking form/receipt that the space provider is under the bonafide impression that permissions had been obtained and that there is no copyright infringement, to avoid such a situation. Publishers. agents should ensure that the full list of plays and authors held by them is readily and easily available to all theatre groups, along with clear application guidelines and possible rates and modes of payment. A question to ask is: Is the theatre hall or the company making a profit over expenses?