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Screenwriters Association to back writers with legal aid in fight against plagiarism

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The Screenwriters Association plans to form a panel of copyright lawyers who will offer their services at concessional rates.

Anjum Rajabali, Kamlesh Pandey

Mayur Lookhar

Soon, aggrieved writers will get the help of the Screenwriters Association (SWA) in their battle against plagiarism.

The SWA plans to provide legal aid to writers in their fight against plagiarism. “We have decided to set up a legal aid fund which will work on a case-by-case basis. If there is a need, we will allot more than 50% [funds]," screenwriter and SWA executive committee member Anjum Rajabali said in a statement.

Headed by president Robin Bhatt, the SWA is a leading association of film writers in India with over 25,000 members.

The SWA plans to form a panel of copyright lawyers who will offer their services at concessional rates. “We have an expert on copyright law who is our first point of contact and examines complaints to determine if they warrant filing a case," said Rajabali. Genuine cases are then forwarded to the disputes settlement committee.

“The film industry should be conscious that the material they are getting isn’t copied,” added Rajabali.

Veteran screenwriter Kamlesh Pandey, writer of films like Chaal Baaz (1989) and Rang De Basanti (2006), welcomed the move.

Speaking to Cinestaan, Pandey said, “This has been on our agenda for long. We had a discussion on these lines when I was general secretary of the Screenwriters Association years ago. Back then, the association was affiliated to the FWICE [Federation of Western India Cine Employees], but our grievances were not addressed. Complaints were lying with us for 16 years, but we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Pandey said the big problem then was the FWICE’s attitude towards writers and no possibility of strong action against erring producers.

“FWICE largely addresses grievances of junior artistes, people who earn daily wages," Pandey said. "It could issue a non-cooperation notice against a producer and so the shooting would be stalled. We writers couldn’t do that for our work is finished way before the film goes on the floors.

"So, after the [Screenwriters Association] election in October last year, we decided to part ways from the FWICE as they really cannot look after our interests.”

Pandey revealed that writers are exploited with widespread plagiarism. He recalled the famous case of Jannat 2 (2012) where producer Mahesh Bhatt had to pay Rs30 lakh as compensation to a young writer, Kapil Chopra.

“This writer, Kapil Chopra, had come to us then. He had all the proofs and that is the reason why we asked him to go to court. Bhatt had appealed against the Bombay high court order to pay Rs10 lakh to Chopra. He went to the Supreme Court, which then ordered him to pay Rs30 lakh. So, you see, if  a writer has been cheated, we will now be prepared to go even to the Supreme Court.”

Pandey hoped that one day the SWA will become as strong a body as the Writers' Guild of America (WGA). “If you recall, a few years ago, the Writers' Guild of America had fought against Hollywood. For six months, the film and TV industry came to a halt. Eventually, their courts ruled in favour of the WGA. They are an extremely powerful body. They have their own office, strong finances, backed by a battery of lawyers. Someday, I hope, the Screenwriters Association can be as strong as them. This move is just the beginning.”