The Case of Collective Loss of Control


An amateur experimental theatre group along with a senior Marathi actor, director, writer who we can call S created a piece on the sexual curiosity of teenagers where three young men call a commercial sex worker to indulge in their fantasies. S was cast as the sex worker. When this was presented, while in progress, a senior theatre person suggested that it should be presented as a play, followed by a conference. The actors worked together, improvised and the script was created. H penned the lines and N directed the play which went on to become a huge hit and attracted film producers. Then H negotiated with a film producer and with that came the problem of who had rights over the play.

N: Hey H cannot be the only one to negotiate we all should!
H: I don't think all of us have rights over the play. S is one of the original creators and therefore she has the rights.
N: Maybe over the experimental work but the play we all created together, I think we all have equal rights!
H: Nah!
N: Nah? Well then, I'm off from this production. In fact I don't think we'll ever perform this play again!


Who has copyright over a collective work? Each of the contributors jointly have copyright over a collective work. The term 'collective work' is not defined in the Copyright Act, but will be construed as work of joint authorship. Work of joint authorship means a work produced by two or more collaborators in which the contribution of one author is not distinct from the contribution of the other authors.

Also read Section 2(z) of the Copyright Act, 1957

Spotlight on Theatre:

More and more theatre today is being developed from collective improvisations or are devised scripts. This places a question over authorship. Sometimes, plays collectively created by one set of actors of a group are recreated by a new set who now constitute the group. We need to be sensitive to all contributors and not let the question of authorship divide the groups or stop work from being staged, depriving the very society that engendered it.

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

Credit all contributors with authorship, when work is a collective one. The leader of the collective in each department, if such a leader exists, can be credited as such. The one who is primarily responsible for the work can be credited as the author. Resolve mis-understandings, do not deprive the public of your play due to your differences. Your work is bigger than that. If your creation is for the group or a cause, then credit the creation to the group. This way continuity is ensured. However, it is good to name the members of the original creating group in the publicity material at the first production.