"If We Do Not Respect Ourselves, Nobody Else Will" - Jyoti Kapoor On Her Learnings From The Case!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on July 31, 2015

Recently, screenwriter Jyoti Kapoor won the case of copyright violation against Bollywood director-producer Kunal Kohli (Fanaa, Hum Tum). In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that there were similarities between the storyline of Kohli's under-production film 'Phir Se' and Jyoti's script titled 'RSVP', and ordered Kohli to cough up a sum of Rs. 25 lakhs. Moreover, the eight month long battle ended with Kohli not only paying up, but also giving Jyoti the writer credits for his upcoming film. The fisaco has provided a big boost to the writer fraternity in an industry largely dominated by producers and stars.

Since the industry has long been used to getting 'inspired,’ on often wonders when does one cross the line between ‘plagiarism’ and inspiration? What are the redressal mechanisms for writers to fight copyright battles? The new Copyright Act strengthens the hands of the writers, giving them control over their work. But not many know the finer details of it. We had a chat with Jyoti Kapoor following the court verdict and tried to understand the history of her case, what she's learnt from the event and any advice that might help other writers in the industry.

How did it all start? What was your first reaction when you got to know about the violation from Mr. Kohli? What motivated you to keep fighting this case, running the risk of rubbing some influential people the wrong way?

A: It all started about 8 months ago when I saw the posters of Kunal’s film and subsequent interviews. There were uncanny similarities in the premise and characters, from what I had read in papers. I was pretty disappointed because I had finally managed to find the right producers for my script and they were in the process of acquiring it. I had worked for 3 years on this script, written several drafts, spent the next two years pitching it and couldn’t let someone walk away with it. I was hurt and wronged and your pain becomes your biggest strength/motivation at these times.

Going by the set of events that you had to go through, how do you think a young writer can save his/her script from any infringement? Keeping in mind that a writer wants to set his foot in the world of filmmaking, and typically would send his/her script to numerous people.

A: Nothing is foolproof but you can’t shy away from sharing your work because how else will you get your scripts out there? Having said that, you should take all the precautions that you can. You need to first register your script with the Film Writers’ Association and only send your registered work to producers/studios. This goes for both commissioned and spec scripts. Once you have registered it, try and share your script over email rather than narrating it or sharing your hardcopy. Basically the more you document your meetings, your narrations, the more protected you are.

How important is it for a writer to register his/her script with the Film Writers Association? What role did the FWA play in helping you out?

A: Very, very important to register your scripts. As far as FWA is concerned, they have been very kind to me; and more than once. These guys get so many such cases on a daily basis and it’s a hell of a lot of work to go through each and every script, verify the facts, send the scripts to experts but they do the due diligence. The best part is the members of the Dispute Settlement Committee (and other committees) are senior writers themselves and they are the best people to look into the copyright matters. The (FWA) verdicts have a persuasive value in courts as well.

The case went through multiple committee’s and tribunals. Could you tell us about the legal process a bit so other writers could understand how the system works?

A: The matter should have been ideally solved after the FWA passed the verdict in my favor. They (along with FWICE) did in fact request Mr Kohli to not go ahead with the shoot of his film. Unfortunately, because they are not a legal body they do not have the power to execute the decision. While most of the industry respects such verdicts, some do not. So when Kunal went ahead to shoot his film despite the FWA verdict, the only choice I had was to move the court, which, as I have repeatedly said is a backbreaking exercise and should be the last resort.

Try and resolve it at the industry association level if you can.  But if you do decide to take the legal route, remember there are few things you will need as you go along - will power, perseverance, finances and time, lots of time. Court battles are like marathons and require a lot of commitment. Unless you are ready to give it that, you shouldn’t jump into it.

Writers do not get the respect they deserve in our film industries. However with recent legal changes in copyright laws and initiatives that organizations like FWA are taking, do you think it is getting better for writers? What needs to change for our writers to start getting the value they deserve?

A: That’s a sad fact that writers indeed do not get what they truly deserve. We are lone rangers, working day in and day out in our solitary spaces, hoping that one fine day our work sees the light of day. We are pretty low in the Bollywood pecking order and very few writers manage to get their due credit and monies. On top of that, ideas get stolen rampantly, directors unfairly insist on sharing writing credit and the contracts are unfair and mostly bad in law.

While everyone else gets credited in the poster/promos of the film, the writer has no mention in it (more often than not). Did the script get automatically written by some divine intervention? Why should one have to beg for what is rightfully theirs? Yes, times are changing and the industry has begun to take a notice of the importance of script and hence the writers in the larger scheme of things but we can’t expect the others to give us what we deserve unless we think we deserve it in the first place. We have to start by respecting ourselves. If we do not respect ourselves, nobody else will.

What have you learnt from the entire episode? What message, if any would you want to give your fellow writers?

A: If you believe in yourself, if you believe that you are fighting the right fight, there’s nothing that can stop you. Don’t be intimidated by the big names and most importantly get rid of the fear of being blacklisted, because if you are good at what you do, work will always come to you.

What projects are you working on currently?

A: A film that I had scripted for Landmarc films two years ago is hopefully going on floors this year. I am also writing my next film for Junglee Pictures. It’s time to put all this behind me and get down to some serious work.

Also check this out:

Join The Jamuura Brigade & Make Your Film

Online Workshop On 'Secrets Of Screenwriting' With Kamlesh Pandey, At 6 PM, On 8th August


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