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Screenwriter's Association drafts a standard release to help ease writer's legal troubles


The draft hopes to help writers bypass legal complications, while maintaining clear control of the copyright over production houses. 

Anjum Rajabali, executive committee member of the SWA (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Our Correspondent

The conflict between writers and producers over the copyright of scripts has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. The Screenwriter's Association (SWA) has been working towards a solution for quite some time now. The association has now come up with a draft to help simplify the complications that first-time writers face when it comes to protecting their copyright. 

Termed ‘release form’, the contract binds the writer and producer to “honour the sanctity of a script”, but from their recent experience, SWA lawyers believe the document absolves producers of all legal obligations, leaving its members’ intellectual property vulnerable.

Anjum Rajabali, executive committee member of the SWA, said, "It's like I ask my neighbour to keep an eye on my house while I’m on vacation and he asks me to sign a note that I can’t sue him for stealing, even if later I see the same things in his house.”

Anamika Jha, who handles the legal issues of the association, said, "We analysed release forms from around 15 production houses and found several clauses which are unfair to writers and won’t stand in the court of law.”

The writer's body has also drafted an ideal contract to help members find a solution with producers. "It is an unbiased from, which serves the purpose of an initial contract and doesn't victimise either party. It asks producers to honour confidentiality, respect copyright and do away with redundant clauses," said Jha. 

Among the changes proposed are:

1. The clause that prohibits writers from laying a claim or litigating if s/he believes that his/her work has been misappropriated, infringed upon or plagiarised by anyone, including a production house, is legally untenable as it violates section 28 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, as it asks the writer to waive with the statutory right to seek legal remedies.

2. The material being submitted to the production house by the writer is in confidence, as it contains his/her intellectual property. The high courts of Bombay and Delhi, in numerous judgements, have declared and established that such information by nature is proprietary and confidential.

3. There is redundant indemnity provision in several release letters, which state that the writer shall indemnify the production house if it faces any loss due to infringing content. Such indemnity is unnecessary at this stage, since there is no assignment of rights or monetary dealing involved.

Rajabali also added that the association will look to gain production houses' approval with the draft, as it would help granting writers better bargaining power during contracts. 

However, the writer also added, "Writers need to develop confidence in their script and take a stand. Just like they won’t agree to accept a lower remuneration, they should refuse to sign and unfair contract.”

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Screenwriter's Association