Jyoti Kapoor

Kunal Kohli

FWA Discussion Board:
Copyrights & Legal Battles - Jyoti Kapoor
-How to Protect your Copyrights and How to Win them back if denied.


Dear Writer Friends,

Writers in our Film Industry invariably come across a situation, at least once in their lifetime, when they have to struggle for their dues. It is important for the Writers to know how to Protect their Copyrights and Fight for them if need arises.

While many give it up and move on; a few of us don’t just relent and put up a strong fight and win their rights when denied for some arbitrary reasons. There have been Writers who have taken Producers to court and won. In this exclusive interview we are meeting one such Writer, Ms. JYOTI KAPOOR; who recently fought the copyright battle till the Supreme Court and won her Credit and Compensation. From her experience other writers can learn a lot and those who have been a victim will certainly draw an inspiration.

Fortunately we also have a Foreword here by our Senior Screenwriting Guru Shri Anjum Rajabali, where he underlines some key issues pertaining to the grim Copyright scenario in our Industry.

Please watch the interview / read the transcript, or both, as convenient to you. We are sure, it will Inspire you to FIGHT if God forbid they deny your rightful dues.

Note – Since the matter was subjudiced for quite long, we have had to stop the publishing of the interview and then even had to re-edit it. Consequently you may find little bit of jerks so kindly bear with us. Nonetheless, the interview is highly educating and inspiring. Go for it.      

Foreword by Shri Anjum Rajabali

Anjum Rajabli

Quite fortunately, a lot that has been written, and quite extensively so, on Jyoti Kapoor’s battle to wrest back her rights to her script which she had complained had been plagiarized by Kunal Kohli. The details of the poaching are in the public domain now, via social media, the print and electronic media and via this substantial account by Jyoti herself. What also need not be reiterated here is the dogged courage and single-mindedness with which she herself pursued the case. Her lawyers too have expressed unstinting admiration for her tenacity clearly concluding that without this attitude of hers, it may not have been possible to win this case.

However, what does need to be emphasized is that hers is not an exception, far less a singular instance of copyright infringement faced by screenwriters in India.  Lifting of ideas, stories and even full screenplays from screenwriters by producers, directors, and sometimes even other screenwriters, has been a common and unchecked practice in India.

One can argue that this is because copyright, by itself, is a relatively new concept for India. Even today, many in the Film and TV industry are quite frankly bewildered by the rights associated with it. Underlying their outrage at the passage of the Amendments to the Copyright Act in 2012 is a long-standing attitude that has not taken cognizance of a scriptwriter’s vision and rights. An attitude that seems to have resisted acknowledging the writer as a stakeholder in the filmmaking process, a partner to the director and the producer. Hence, the presumption that the writer is an employee, doing the producer or director’s bidding, like a hired pen engaged to realize their vision, rather than bring in his own. So, his input is taken for granted and not valued.

When the debate among the stakeholders, before the bill was tabled in the Parliament, was going on under the aegis of the HRD Ministry, several leaders of industry actually asserted that, if the amendments were passed, the film industry would shut down! Shut down?! Why? Because you had to give writers their due?! Hollywood screenwriters receive hefty fees and massive residuals - in lieu of royalties for their work, in millions of dollars. And yet, the American Film and TV industries have gone from strength to strength, with American TV delivering perhaps the best storytelling in the world today!

A quick glance at the evolution of the situation that lead to Jyoti’s crisis shows up perhaps three primary reasons for why the concept of copyright causes discomfiture and anxiety in the Film and TV industry in India.

One: We have a long and ancient culture here. Meaning that there are so so many stories, so much mythology, music, poetry, theatre, and other arts that are ancient in origin, and hence free from copyright, that the practice of taking from these freely is very natural for us. And, that is how it should be too.

Two: Historically, the screenwriting function, by itself, has had a rather nebulous status in filmmaking in India. As opposed to the West, where the screenwriter was clearly defined as the author of the script and his task was to be performed exclusively by him before the film went into production, here most writers constructed the script in conjunction with the director, the producer, even the actor, and many sundry others, thereby blurring the label of authorship. Many times it was impossible to distinguish who contributed or even constructed which aspect of the script. Hence the principle of attribution was very difficult to enforce.

Three: The filmmaking business, while referring to itself as an industry, never really functioned like one. There were hardly any regulations that governed its working.  There weren’t any standard good practices that were formulated or followed. Or, more pertinently for us, writers’ rights and responsibilities were not regulated and nor did they have any uniformity about them. Deadlines for submission, credit specification, schedules of payments, protection of rights, etc. were almost never specified. There were hardly any contracts or letters of appointment! Ambiguity seemed to be integral to the system. And, of course, in every case, the producer’s decision was final. Barring half a dozen writers before the 90s, no one had an effective voice to demand his/her rights, including in the instances where their work was stolen, or robbed.

Writers, unfortunately, mostly kowtowed to this culture by default, believing that this is how things were and would be. Those who felt otherwise were perhaps anxious that they shouldn’t be ostracized and lose employment. With very very few exceptions, individual writers had no bargaining power, effectively. So, if their credit or fees were denied, it was because it could. This is of course not to say that every producer or director was out to exploit his writer. Point being made is that the power equation was completely skewed against the writer. Completely! As a result the writer was generally undervalued and denied his/her due position. Unfortunately, the Film Writers Association hadn’t found its collective bargaining feet yet and hence never really functioned like a union that writers could turn to for redress of any kind.

Apart from the fact that this must have kept away a lot of talented and self-respecting writers from the film business, or driven them to direction, it encouraged the practice of plagiarism. Lifting from Hollywood, lifting from earlier Hindi films, from regional films, pilfering the original ideas from other writers, from spec scripts.. All these were considered absolutely legitimate practices until the turn of the century.

What Jyoti’s case, and the hundreds of other complaints that FWA’s Disputes Settlement Committee receives, reiterate is that we are far from being able to root out this crime. The borders which define copyright of a person’s work are still porous. Many filmmakers still refuse to realize or acknowledge that when a writer writes, s/he is creating intellectual property. Tangible property with a potential commercial value! It is then his/her prerogative to allow the filmmaker to use it to make a film and exploit it for monetary gains. Writing a script is like building a house and leasing it to a tenant for a fee, with conditions attached. The tenant cannot claim that he built it. The owner’s authorship is permanent!

While it is tempting to rhetorically lament that the film and TV industries’ attitude towards writers and writing has to change, it is essential to realize that such change doesn’t happen automatically. It is imperative that first writers themselves become that change by treating their work as rightfully their own, by becoming cognizant and familiar with their rights in it, and by being determined to protect those. It is this reorientation which is going to be the big factor in ushering in a sea change in the screenwriter’s status in this industry.

Writers feel vulnerable and nervous, and many a time isolated, in their individual fights. Sure. But, so did Jyoti Kapoor! However, she hung on. And, fought with conviction in the belief that what was hers was hers. Her victory, which is not as big as it should have been, has gone a significant distance in boosting the morale of other writers, and has also created a fighting precedent. Even legally so. It has also proved that our judicial system is gradually but surely getting sensitized to writers’ distress, and happy to intervene to offer redress.

The time seems to have come for the screenwriter to say NO to his work being distorted or undervalued, to her position being undermined, to any action that causes his/her dignity as a writer to be lowered.

The Interview

The Transcript

Interviewer:  Hi Jyoti, good afternoon and welcome to FWA.

Jyoti:  Thank you Sanjay.

Interviewer:  We should thank you for sparing your time Jyoti. Before we move on, just tell us something about yourself, a brief introduction for our members.

Jyoti:  I started out as a journalist and switched over to screenwriting in 2006 when I completed my course in screenplay writing from FTI. It’s almost a decade now that I have been writing since then.

Interviewer:  Ok let me add to it. Friends, Jyoti has written the story for Daawat-e-Ishq and dialogue for Kachcha Limboo and a lot of TV too.
Jyoti:  Yes, you may write a lot of things but some of them don’t get completed. Those which get completed sometimes don’t see the light of day. Those see the light of day, sometimes you don’t get credited with them.  But I have to say that it has been a fair journey in terms of getting my work out there. Yes, two feature films and some work in Television - I did Left Right Left and Jhume Jiya Re in 2007-8. I also taught at Whistling Woods for some time before I started full-time writing.

Interviewer:  Nice meeting you again, Jyoti smiley. Well, we have been reading about a lot of things, all kinds of problems writers get into - there are disputes, scripts are plagiarized, ideas are stolen, how those things happen? Most of us don’t pursue, but you are the one who left no stone unturned when it came to protecting your rights as a writer. You have brought people to FWA DSC, taken them to court, and now to the Supreme Court too. The best part is you have emerged victorious on all fronts. Do you mind if I call it a victory?
Jyoti - Indeed! It’s a big moral victory for all of us. People judge you, doubt you, ostracize you when you take this path but finally when your stand is vindicated you get the much-needed closure. So I’m relieved, much relieved!

Interviewer - That’s really great. There is light at the end of the tunnel. So today we will be interviewing you as a fighter more than a writer. You are an inspiration for exploited Writers. So can you tell me why eventually writers land into disputes?

Jyoti:  First of all I’d ideally like to be known by my work, known as a writer rather than a fighter smiley. But having said that, you know if your work doesn’t go out there, then the chances of even being known as a writer are miniscule. So yes, I took a call. You do these things when you don’t have a choice. I came to the FWA and they did give the verdict in my favour but then the film was still shot after that and we were left with no choice at all but to move the court.

Interviewer:  Just let me interrupt you, I think you are talking about the latest dispute...
Jyoti:  Yes.

Interviewer:  I’ll come to that later, my present question was what leads to this that writers land into such trouble.
Jyoti:  The problem emerges when a) either you don’t get paid or b) you don’t get credit or c) your work is stolen.
Now, why does that happen? Because we don’t take our writers seriously, we don’t take writing seriously. It has been happening for a long time now as we all know. Most importantly I think that people feel they can get away with it. With me, this is not the first time that this is happening. Also, a lot of my writer friends have gone through this. But I hope things will change and they are changing. People now ask for a bound script, writers get their work registered so such incidents should ideally come down.

Interviewer: - Ok, would you like to talk about disputes you have gone through and how you came out of that.
Jyoti:-  9 out of 10 times, it’s a default that things either don’t work out or something wrong happens or you don’t get your credit or you don’t get money as expected, etc., etc. So yes coming back to my disputes. There was an incident a couple of years ago where a big production house had called me to do some TV work. They had asked me to give then a sample for 2 minutes script. I wrote that 2 minutes script and they liked it, but the negotiations did not really work out and we parted ways. Then one day while walking into a departmental store in Pune I heard my script was being used as filler on one radio station, word by word as it was. This was initially supposed to be a web series that they must have probably used for other platforms as well. I was quite surprised because our deal didn’t work out and I had categorically told the person that they couldn’t use this. So I went to them and requested to pay my due. Initially, they tried to dismiss me saying that such things are very normal and they had an entire legal department to tackle it. They even told me I was free to do what I wanted.

Anyhow, thankfully I was able to convince that person to give me my dues. I told them if push comes to shove, I will have to seek a remedy. I requested them and they agreed.

Next was an incident when I had to seek FWA’S help. There was a film where I was denied my credit after having worked really hard on it. FWA intervened and I did get my due credit.

Now there is this latest incident where my script got stolen. A very complicated case. I had approached Mr Kunal Kohli with my script and the negotiations did not work out. Then a year later I approached another producer and they acquired my script. Then while we were trying to make a film, we realized that Kunal was making a similar film. We learned this through newspaper reports and interviews.I did some research/investigation after that and once I was very sure that it was my script, I approached the FWA and the case went on for a while. FWA sent the script to experts and they ruled it in my favour; in the sense that they realized that the script was, in fact, infringed.

But even after the FWA verdict, Kunal went on to shoot his film and I had no choice but to move the court because you know a lot of work goes into the script that you write and you can’t let anyone get away with your years of hard work. These battles are very difficult to fight individually despite all the support that you get from your colleagues, from FWA. To add to all the agony, there are media reports and you know how these things are talked about. There are times when a lot of mudslinging happens. It’s very difficult for an individual writer to face all this. It becomes a full-time job to make sure that reports are not manipulated; you defend yourself against all that happens. Because I believe that a writer’s creditability is the most important thing and your reputation in your place of work is something that once lost, is very difficult to restore. So that also happened, but yes eventually we went to the court and we got interim relief. The film was injuncted by the High Court based on the prima facie evidence. The single judge actually took the pains of reading the script and watching the film in question and arrived at this order. But Kunal then appealed to the Division Bench, which set aside the ad interim order and then I had to go to the Supreme Court, which did a timely intervention and got me my compensation and credit.

Interviewer: -  Jyoti, you just mentioned FWA and their help in all your struggle and disputes. Can you please tell me how was your experience with DSC? Why in spite of DSC verdict you had to go to the court? Did the DSC verdict help you in the court in any way?

Jyoti: -  See I have highest regards for the FWA, the Dispute Settlement Committee and I have bothered them a couple of times. I appreciate the fact that you guys give your time, make a lot of efforts with all diligence. I understand that matters cannot be decided overnight and it requires a lot of work to gather scripts, to send them to experts. These matters require intense deliberations and debate and fact finding and all that. Above all, it’s a voluntary work. So I would like to thank the DSC from the bottom of my heart really.

The DSC did their job following the protocols like forwarding the scripts to experts, comparing and finally arrived at a decision in my favour. But yes, despite the DSC verdict in my favour, I had to go to the court because Kunal went ahead and shot the film. Now coming to the value of the FWA verdict, how it helped me in court. FWA decision definitely has a persuasive value in the court of law. You know even the courts ideally want these things to be settled at the association level. Even in the cases where people have not approached the FWA and directly gone to court sometimes, they appoint an expert panel which constitutes members from the DSC, from the FWA. I believe that they are the best people to look into these kinds of cases because these are not simple cases; they need some special expertise. You have to compare two scripts and for the layman it’s not an easy task. One could look at two scripts and the expression might be different but still it could be a clear case of plagiarism. There are lots of things that come into being. I mean there are ways to steal and anybody who steals will not copy it ‘as it is’ but they will obviously take enough care to hide the copying.

There is something very interesting that I would like to share with you. In the judgment, the first order that was passed by the single judge, the court ruled that the kernel or the germ of the idea was used from my script as a springboard to arrive at the film that was being shot. So you know basically if you have to take someone’s work and try and make it your own, you will obviously take the central idea and work around it. That’s what the court in fact implied, that even in that case where the work might not be substantially similar, but if you have taken the germ of an idea and if you can prove access (or a link) then there could be an arguable case. There can be a scenario where you think of an idea and I think of an idea and we individually develop scripts and they can be substantially similar but if I share something with you and then you take the DNA and develop the script then that is where there is a red flag.

Interviewer: -  So looks like it was a very tough decision to arrive at because the way you are expressing, the person has taken enough care to hide his faults. Indeed, sounds very tough, GOOD you are through. Well, did you even take help of the FWA Lawyers or the panels recommended by them?

Jyoti: -  Actually no. By that time, I had already narrowed down on Mr Rahul Ajatshatru, who is the friend of a friend. But there is a lot even before you lock your lawyers and file a case. You need a lot of information beforehand to prepare for the case. For that, you take help of people you know. Try to get knowledge about how to lodge a case or go about it. This is not our routine work, to file the case or to go to the court, so you gather info from available sources. I would really like to thank Kapil Chopra and Urmi Juvekar, who are my peers and have also fought copyright battles much before me. They were huge sources of inspiration. They helped me in every way they could. They actually taught me a lot.

Sometimes what you need most is the moral support. When you consult someone (who had been through similar disputes), they will tell you that it will come to its logical conclusion in its own sweet time but during the course, it will be extremely painful. You will not feel thirsty or hungry, sometimes you may not even be able to sleep, you may feel like quitting at every stage. But eventually you just don’t have to give up. This is what kept me going throughout. Also, you might get the best of lawyers but you will need to guide them, simplify it for them, especially the creative aspects of the case.

Interviewer: -  You said FWA DSC’s verdict was helpful. Can you elaborate on how it was helpful? Did the court refer to it? Your lawyers, did they use it?

Jyoti: -  Yes it did help. Like I said it has a persuasive value in the court of law. Whenever you go to court, they will ask if you tried to resolve the matter at your level, and that’s where the FWA DSC process that you follow comes to your aid. First of all before going to court, you will first come to your association and try and get it resolved. When you have the FWA verdict i.e. FWA gives its findings after comparing the scripts and because those are experts’ findings they definitely carry persuasive value. The judge may still go ahead and do his or her own investigation. Of course, we did mention in our plaint that had FWA verdict in our favour. Also, if you look at the past cases, I believe that most of the cases, where people had FWA verdict in their favour, they more or less succeeded in the courts as well.

Also, because we register our work at FWA and they are the people who document your work, I feel they are the right people also to look into it and tell you whether or not a case exists.

Interviewer: -  Fine, now see one question that keeps bothering us, why only writers suffer this? Most times, amongst all the talents, writers are paid the least, but in spite of that, there is always fight for writer’s credit or even that little compensation.

Jyoti :-  Frankly speaking, actually I still haven’t figured out why that happens, because you know if the writers credit is so special that everyone wants a pie in it, then I assume that the writer also should be special, but that is not the case. So I think it boils down to maybe somewhere the directors- with due respect to them; there are also directors who will collaborate with you like true professional but I am saying in cases where the directors are insecure about this collaboration, sometimes take away your credit. There are cases where director will put pen to paper, will write and collaborate in a true sense but then there are instances and most of them where a director will mostly supervise your work or give you feedback and in that sense, collaborate with you. Then I don’t understand why they would want to share credit with you? If you go by that logic, then a director gives feedback to the DoP, Editor and even Costume Designer. So then the director should get the credit for everything - co-credited with an editor, art director and everyone. And if we look this matter from a different angle and say because the director has given his valuable feedback and they deserve the credit, so in that way when we write many people give us their feedback. Like in my case I go and read out the story to my husband who is also a writer, he gives me some feedback, then I probably call my parents and sometimes discuss my stories at length with them, then I share with my friends, my writer friends. They all give their feedback. If you go by that logic, then everyone should get credit. Again my point is, if directors have contributed, they should take it in the right spirit. We have seen some recent films, films that have done phenomenally well, at the box office and also critically acclaimed where the writers were given their dues. But that doesn’t take away from a director’s work. It will still be a director’s film because films will always be a director’s medium. Then I don’t understand why all this insecurity. I think we can co-exist and a writer will still continue to write behind the scenes, you give them their money and credit and they will be the happiest people. They will give their best to the project.

On the contrary, if there is that feeling of betrayal at the back of your mind, it does affect your work. When you know that you work so hard over the years and in the end if somebody walks away with the credit, you don’t like that. There is a saying “Jungle mein more nacha kisne dekha“ - it means you are working in your solitary confinement but when it is time to reap the benefits, you are sidelined. No doubt, I have also come across some directors who are professionals and respect writers and their credits. I feel times are changing now for good. But yes there are all kinds of people.

Interviewer: -  What precautions you will say the writers should take so that they don’t land in these kinds of problems or if at all they land, then how can they rescue themselves.

Jyoti: -  A) Register your work and keep a record of the development of your script at every stage. For e.g. You are writing a script, you write the synopsis in the beginning - a three pager synopsis, which is like the basic story concept even at that stage you should register your work because the whole idea is to keep documenting your work and creating proof that this is the work and these are the different stages that it has gone through. So the first you probably register your work is when you write your concept then may be a detailed treatment and then as you continue to work on your script, you should register it at all these milestones.

B) Secondly when you have already registered it and you are pitching your script to producers or directors, you should always ideally send it out through emails, which puts things on record and establishes the link between you and the producer/director (whoever you share your script with).

Yes, a lot of times we are still expected to narrate our scripts. There is nothing wrong with that although ideally I prefer someone reading my script than me narrating because we write the script by putting a lot of efforts. Anyway, if you have to narrate your script, you should also try and send an email and capture all that happened in the meeting. Ideally first send an email and then go and narrate the same thing.

Now there could be a case that you have registered your work and it is still stolen. Whether you go to court and come to FWA, at the end of the day it boils down to facts. What are the facts - on this day I created this material; I registered it with FWA and on this day I shared it with this person and on this day I thought my idea was stolen and published or reproduced somewhere.  All these facts will be put together. In retrospect, you will thank yourself that you did all this. Sometimes we get lazy and try to skip things, but don’t do that. I understand there are deadlines that you have to send it on that particular day at a particular hour and you think you don’t have time to register but always, always register your work. Now FWA also has online registration which is so easy and quick and you can register it any time. So prevention is better than cure.

Now in spite of all this if it is stolen, then there is FWA, court.

Interviewer: -   So register your work first and share that preferably on the email to keep interactions on record. And in spite of this, chances are people who want to steal will steal anyway but then these things will come to your rescue if you decide to take up and fight.

Jyoti :-  I have learnt one more thing through this recent case is that when we send out a bound script which is a detailed document 100-120 pages or whatever, along with that we should also send the synopsis which captures, the summary of the script. With that, you have not only shared your idea that eventually translated into your script, you also shared your detailed work, which is the expression of that idea. These are two different things, two different entities.

Because your idea is not copyrightable, someone could easily steal it and work their own script around it and get away with it. But when you share it with someone in confidence along with your script then you have shared your idea as well as the full-fledged script. This provides some protection to your idea that otherwise is not independently copyrightable.

Now if someone steals even your idea and makes their own script around it and if you can prove that, then that helps you. 

The screenplay is an expression of the idea. To prove plagiarism at script level is very tricky because you have to find substantial similarities and get into all of those technicalities. You should share your synopsis as well as your screenplay. Always share both.

Interviewer: -  You can catch someone even when they steal your idea if you take this care and send both the documents.

Jyoti: -  Yes because copyright cases are very difficult to prove. Anybody who has made a career out of stealing scripts would be more up to date on copyright laws than you are. They know how it is done and take sufficient care to avoid getting caught by changing the expression of the idea. They know that it is very difficult to prove unless there is a substantial similarity. They work around your idea and can still get away with it by playing smart. But if you have shared your script as well as your synopsis then you have shared your concept/idea as well, which is embedded in your script  We should also be aware of copyright laws and know how to protect our work.

Interviewer: -  So can you quickly compare between FWA and the court w.r.t. The cost, the things, the pros and cons, etc.

Jyoti: -  The methods followed by both the FWA and the court might be the same, like showing it to experts, comparing, assessing the facts and arriving at a conclusion, the journeys are totally different. As far as Courts are concerned, I don’t wish it upon anyone; nobody should ideally have to go to the courts because it’s a back-breaking exercise - physically and mentally and financially. Imagine going all the way to town, every second day. Apart from the physical efforts you make, you need to be mentally strong as well. You will want to give up at every stage. It’s not an easy task. It totally affects your work, affects everything around you.
Vis-à-vis that, at FWA you don’t spend anything. They will offer you a cup of tea every time you come here, they will listen to you and encourage you to pursue your case and arrive at a conclusion with all diligence. I think we should all respect our association.

Interviewer: -  Ok, anything else you would like to add? Being a woman does it make the struggle more difficult?

Jyoti: -  No. That is one thing I feel our industry is very fair when it comes to gender. If you are a writer you will anyway get screwed ;) so being a man, or a woman doesn’t make a difference. I think your work speaks for you. Either you are a good writer or a bad writer, you might get lucky or not, but it really doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman who is pursuing this career.

Interviewer: -  So what is now you are working on? Would you like to share something, what written by Jyoti Kapoor is coming soon?

Jyoti: -  There was this film I’d written two years ago and now it has a director attached and it should go on floor very soon. I don’t know if I can name the film but yes it’s in the pipeline. Then apart from that, I am working on two other films which I have just about started writing. This court matter did affect my work but thankfully people have been helpful – everyone. There used to be times when I had to leave my work meetings and be at courts. But people really have gone out of their way to help me and it includes my producers, writer friends, family everyone.

Interviewer: - You work for TV and films both. Can you make a quick comparison? A lot of people are shuttling between these two unable to make out. What’s your experience like?
Jyoti: -  TV and Films are different mediums and some of us are cut out for one or both. In TV it’s like either you are cut out for TV or you are not because there are deadlines that you have to deal with it and if you are that kind of person who works well with deadlines hovering over your head, then TV is the thing to do. But I could not cope up with the pressure and hence I took a break from TV. Though TV gives you a lot of money and that means a lot of self-respect. Also in television sometimes for various reasons there are a lot of creative restrictions. Again it depends on whether you are cut out for it, whether you like to take it easy and take your own time to create things or whether you can cope up with the deadlines.

Interviewer: -  Ok Jyoti thanks a lot, thanks for coming and wish you all the best.
Jyoti -  Thank you so much.


Interviewed by - Sanjay Sharma
Shot By - Sumant Prajapati
Edited by - Jitendra Kuche

-Sanjay Sharma

Critic who loves to appreciate.

Click here to Top