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Rights of a Writer

Jyoti Kapoor’s win in the script plagiarism row against Kunal Kohli serves as a closure to her year-long battle.

Updated: July 22, 2015 11:40:57 am
talk, Jyoti Kapoor, screenwriter, Kunal Kohli, script plagiarism, films, Supreme court, Indian Express Jyoti Kapoor.

In her seven years as a screenwriter, Jyoti Kapoor had penned several scripts. While some had been made into films, others were being pitched or in production. But the one she started to write in 2010 was special. Loosely based on her own love story and eventual marriage with her now-husband, it addressed the taboo of remarrying after a divorce. The script — when she started to pitch in 2013 — was liked by several producers. Finally, in January 2014, director Kunal Kohli decided to take the project forward. The film would also serve as his acting debut.

But at some point during the negotiations, the deal fell through. However, a few months later, Kohli announced his next film, titled Phir Se…, which Kapoor found very close to the script she had pitched to him. Unwilling to let this pass, the screenwriter decided to fight for her rights. A year and two court cases later, Kapoor has finally won the battle. On Monday, the Supreme Court asked Kohli to pay Rs 25 lakh as compensation to Kapoor and also credit her in Phir Se….

“It is a script close to both my husband and me. And according to a clause that was being negotiated when Mr Kohli expressed interest in making the film, I was to get solo credit. That can be a big deal for a screenwriter who is trying to establish herself in the industry. That all this was being taken away from me made me very angry,” recounts Kapoor, who co-wrote Habib Faisal’s Daawat-e-Ishq.

By the time she heard about Phir Se…, her script had already been acquired by another production house. Thus, Kapoor, an alumna of Film and Television Institute of India, decided to take the matter up with Film Writers’ Association. Both the Dispute Settlement Committee and the Appellate Tribunal ruled that her script had been plagiarised. Yet, Kohli decided to ignore this and went ahead with the making of the film. This prompted Kapoor and her producers, India Stories Media and Entertainment, to approach the court.

The verdict in Kapoor’s favour is being hailed by the film industry as a major win. Screenwriters often find themselves in similar situations where their scripts are plagiarised. But most of them do not take it up for they fear ostracisation, and neither can they afford the expenses involved. Kohli, however, claims that Kapoor’s idea was generic and that it isn’t a breach of copyright. “Her agent approached me when I was working on a script with a similar subject. After meeting, we had a few disagreements and parted ways. The idea of two divorced people falling in love is a broad one and my films has a lot of different elements,” he explains.

Kohli adds that while the High Court had ruled that he has violated copyright and breached confidence, the SC has reversed that verdict. “The SC judges suggested an out-of-court settlement. I have paid Rs 25 lakh as compensation. Giving the credit of story idea is a gesture of goodwill. She has not been credited as co-screenwriter or dialogue writer,” he says. In exchange, Kohli will withdraw the defamation case he had filed against Kapoor for her Facebook post accusing him of plagiarising.

But Kapoor points out that when she filed a case against Kohli, she always maintained that he has adapted her idea.

“I never asked for a screenplay credit. So where does the point of a goodwill gesture come from? The rest, I will comment on once the court uploads the order.”For Kapoor, who relentlessly fought on, the verdict is a culmination of a battle that was draining her physically, mentally and financially. She says, “The compensation will pay for the lawyers’ fee. But if at all my script will get made into a film is a call my producers will have to take. The verdict has given me a closure and I have now moved on.”

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