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“Three Idiots” Controversy – An Analysis

BananaIP Counsels > Copyrights  > “Three Idiots” Controversy – An Analysis

“Three Idiots” Controversy – An Analysis

This image depicts the 3 Idiots Movie Cover

First Publication Date: 5th January 2010.

For all the ardent Mr. Chetan Bhagat’s readers, who loved “Five Point Someone-What not to do in IIT” and fans of the movie, “Three Idiots”, the attribution controversy has not been very pleasant.

In a recent press meet, producer Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s outburst over the question on Mr. Chetan Bhagat’s allegations of not being given proper credit in the film has led to an important question. The question that needs to be analyzed now is whether proper credit has been given and is it actually required to be given?

In one of the previous posts here relating to “Three Idiots” controversy, the aforesaid question has already been discussed. However, being a fan of both, the book and the movie, it interested me to analyze the entire controversy by comparing the book and the movie in order to understand the allegations of Mr. Chetan Bhagat and producers of the movie. And after the analysis, which is provided as hereunder, I most respectfully disagree with the previous posts here relating to the same topic.

To begin with, let us look at the similarities between the book and the movie. The plot line of the movie is undoubtedly the same as the book. To cite instances, the three central characters meet at ragging, the first class of the semester begins with the definition of machine, Alok (Raju) separate from the other two characters after Prof. Cherian’s (Director’s) advise, Ryan (Rancho) helps Alok’s father and brings him to the hospital, after which Alok rejoins the group. Further, Alok (Raju) jumps from the building to save his suspension and exam papers are stolen from the Director’s office and phone call is made from Prof. Cherian’s (Directors’) office, Prof. Cherian’s (Director’s) son commits suicide after failing thrice for getting admission in IIT (ICE), Neha (Pia) hiding the fact that her brother commits suicide from her father Prof. Cherian (Director), showcase of rigour and monotony involved in the studies and rat race at IIT (ICE) and so on.

Besides the aforesaid similarities, there are also a number of changes that have been made in the movie. Character switch between Ryan (Rancho) and Hari (Farhaan), flight take off aborted by Hari (Farhaan) to deboard, the search for Ryan (Rancho) by Alok (Raju) and Hari (Farhaan), character sketch of Prof. Cherian (Virus), concept of astronaut pen being transferred from Prof. Cherian (Virus) to Ryan (Rancho), absence of character Prof. Veera, “All is Well” line of thought, speech scene by Venkat (Chatur) and his dramatic return after 10 years of college, Ryan (Rancho) characterized as Phunsukh Wangdu in the later half of the movie, heroine, Neha (Piya) being paired opposite to Ryan (Rancho) and not opposite Hari, the narrator (Farhan), whose religion and professional ambition in life has been changed, introduction of character of Mona (Neha’s (Pia) sister) and delivery scene of Mona, the final conflict between Phunsukh and Venkat (Chatur), that shows the theme of the film to “Chase Excellence, Success Will Follow”.

Given the backdrop, a lot of people are asking if substantial portion of the movie is copied from the book or not. In order to understand whether the similarities between the book and the movie amounts to being substantial similar, it should be noted that Courts look not only at the proportion of duplication in comparison to the relative size of the works, but also to the fact as to how creative and original is the copied work and how important and central such creation is to both the works. As there is no clarity regarding the quantum of duplication, which qualifies for “substantial similarity”, the question of determining the substantial similarity depends on facts and circumstances of each case.

Before applying the aforesaid principles to the present case, we must not forget to discuss the landmark case relating to substantial similarity, i.e., “R.G ANAND Vs. M/S. DELUX FILMS & ORS.” The case involved the adaptation of a play written by plaintiff into a movie by the defendants. On a careful comparison of the script of the plaintiff’s copyrighted play with the movie, the Court held that “…although one does not fail to discern a few resemblances and similarities between the play and the film, the said resemblances are not material or substantial and the degree of similarities is not such as to lead one to think that the film taken as a whole constitutes an unfair appropriation of the plaintiff’s copyrighted work. In fact, a large majority of material incidents,episodes and situations portrayed by defendants in their film are substantially different from the plaintiff’s protected work…”

Hence, while applying the principles of substantial similarity to the present case, it should be noted that the proportion of duplication of the book by the producers of the movie in comparison to the relative size of the book is not important. What is important to see is whether the movie copied substantial elements of the copyrighted portions of the book or not. Comparing the similarities and dissimilarities between the book and the movie, there is no denying that the basic structure of the movie is inspired and adapted from the book. The changes made in the movie however are many, which are central to the movie alone and not to the book. In my opinion said resemblances are not substantial and the degree of similarities is not such as to lead one to think that the movie taken as a whole constitutes a copying of Mr. Chetan Bhagat’s book under the copyright law.

In the light of my opinion that the movie is not substantially similar to the book, the question to be considered is whether Chetan Bhagat must be given credit as the story writer. To answer this question we need to look into the contract entered between Vinod Chopra Films and Mr. Chetan Bhagat, which may be found at http://www.vinodchopra.com/agreement.pdf. For understanding whether adequate credit is being given to Mr. Chetan Bhagat, clause 4 of the same contract becomes relevant. It provides the mode of providing the credits to Mr. Chetan Bhagat, which was agreed to be given during the rolling credits as, “Based on the Novel Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat”. In light of this clause, producers of the movie are not bound to give any credits to Mr. Chetan Bhagat other than as provided in the agreement because by agreeing for credits to be given in a specific manner, Mr. Chetan Bhagat has waived his right to claim for any other kind of credit. Furthermore, as the movie is not substantially similar, the producers of the movie do not have any obligation to give credit to Mr. Chetan Bhagat other than as agreed under the contract.

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  • rvayyar
    Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 4:54 AM

    I find the discussion on moral rights very interesting as it brings back memories of the WIPO Diplomatic Conference, 1996. One of the reasons why the WIPO Performance Treaty did not cover audio-visual works was the strong difference of opinion between the United States and the European Commission over the moral rights of the director and actors of films.
    Regarding the observations of Prof. Anil Suraj, I am to say that it is no doubt true that the WTO-TRIPs agreement does exclude moral rights; however, it is not exactly correct to say that moral rights are not mandatory and binding across the world. Article 1 (4) of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, 1996 makes it mandatory for the Contracting Parties to comply with Articles 1 to 21 and the Appendix of the Berne Convention, and therefore are required to comply with Article 6 bis of the Berne Convention dealing with moral rights. Further, Article 1 (1) of the WIPO Copyright Treaty makes it explicitly clear that that ‘Treaty shall not have any connection with treaties other than the Berne Convention, nor shall it prejudice any rights and obligations under any other treaties’. Hence WTO-TRIPs agreement does not matter in respect of countries which are parties to the WIPO Copyright Treaty as well in so far as moral rights are concerned. They are required to respect moral rights in the same manner as they were respecting under Berne Convention. The WIPO Copyright Treaty does not as yet have as many Contracting Parties as Berne Convention; however, most major economies of the world are parties, and one can expect that in the not so many distant future that it would be as universal as the Berne Convention.

    Having said it should be admitted that Berne and Paris Conventions unalike the WTO-TRIPs agreement allows considerable flexibility to Contracting Parties in regard to the scope and duration of protection. In the 1980s, Dr Bogsch, the then Director General, WIPO, who was lobbying the Indian government to accede to Paris Convention, informed the Indian government that the Indian Patent Act, which then did not confer product patent right in respect of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, was wholly consistent with Paris Convention, and that therefore needs no amendment even after India accedes to the Paris Convention. Or to give another example of the flexibility of these Conventions, even after its accession to Berne Convention, the United States provides for moral rights in respect of visual art works only. Berne and Paris Conventions belong to the international era of IPRs when the objective was harmonization of national laws and progressive enhancement of the standards of protection. In contrast, the WTO-TRIPs whose entry into force marks the beginning of the global era of IPRs in which the objective of treaty making is not harmonization but laying down of binding minimum norms. The WIPO Copyright Treaty, interestingly, has features of both eras, in that it laid down the minimum norms before any country or regional body like the European Community enacted legislation laying down stands of protection in the digital medium, and yet the same time being devoid of ‘teeth’ for enforcement it is not as binding as the global era WTO-TRIPs agreement.
    R V Vaidyanatha Ayyar

  • JustAnother
    Monday, February 1st, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    I find that the whole discussion on similarity between the movie and the book is irrelevant here. Chetan Bhagat’s argument here was that he should be given credit at start of the film and not at the end. The very fact that the producers agreed to give him credit and signed an agreement with the author says that they intended to make the movie based on the book. The controversy is about ‘where’ the credit should have been.

  • Anita k
    Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    Yes, I agree with Mr Just another. The whole issue here is about the Right of Attribution falling under section 57 (Special Right i.e. Moral Rights) of Indian Copyright Act and not under infringement of copyright as such. The copyright in the novel were sold by the author i.e. Mr chetan Bhagat for a sum of Rs 11 lac to the producer. Hence the producer of the film had the copyright on the novel to adapt and reproduce it in whatever manner he wants. Thus no question of substantial similarity etc.

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