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The Case of the Disappearing Natesh

Situation:

Alliance Française de Madras commissioned Natesh to create paintings on the ceiling and walls of its building. Change of director, a simple whitewash job and voilà! The whole of Natesh’s work lost forever!

Alliance Française: Time to repaint the building!
Natesh: Nooo!
Artist community: Shame! Shame! What a loss to art! Compensate him!
Alliance Française: Since the French Ambassador has told us do so…sorry, Natesh!
Artist community: Booo!


Law:

Does an author have the right to compel a copyright holder to republish or permit the performance of a published work? Yes, an author can compel the copyright holder to republish or grant permission for performance of work when the work is withheld from public.

What should be done to release work that is withheld from the public? Make a complaint before the Copyright Board. The Board will conduct an enquiry and grant a compulsory licence if it agrees with the author.


Spotlight on Theatre:

This incident threw up an interesting question of the collective right of a community to enjoy an artistic work and the deprivation of that right by an entity (cultural!) that had commissioned the work of the artist. Playwrights enter into contracts with publishers for the publication of their work. Both parties may have the best of intentions, but economic calculations may consign a great work into the attic after a mere 100 copies or so are published. Almost 60% of published plays are thus not available. This has the same effect as the actual destruction of a work. This is a huge loss of creative output affecting the whole theatre community.


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

Be aware of what rights you are signing away when entering into a contract. Retain performance rights, make sure that you do not inadvertently give away those rights to the publisher or the licensee. Most theatre practitioners would rather deal with the playwright than with a publisher or agent; so your play is more likely to be performed if you hold the performance rights. Reclaim your right to publish if the publisher refuses to re-publish, within a reasonable time frame.