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Adapting Indian Copyright: Bollywood, Indian Cultural Adaptation, and the Path to Economic Development

Posted by on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Articles, Volume 23, Volume 23, Issue 3.

Michael P. Goodyear | 23 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 517 (2021)

Bollywood and the Indian film industry have enjoyed enormous success, being among the largest movie producers in the world. Yet, despite the bright image of Indian cinema producing over a thousand movies a year and selling billions of tickets, the industry has faced controversy over the practice of copying expression, sometimes practically scene for scene, from US and other international films and adapting them into a version that reflects Indian social and cinematic customs and mores (“Indian cultural adaptation”). A long-standing practice, Indian cultural adaptation in Bollywood has only attracted the attention of Hollywood studios in the past twenty years, but under international, US, and Indian copyright law, the legality of the practice remains in an unsettled gray area.

Current literature on Indian cultural adaptation remains sparse and focuses on greater enforcement by India or Hollywood studios, at least partially condemning the practice. This Article instead argues that the practice of Indian cultural adaptation at least partially aligns with other limitations on the scope of copyright, including the expression-idea distinction, fair use, and the scène à faire doctrine. Drawing on a growing trend in law and economic development literature to craft property rights on a country-by-country basis, this Article also argues that explicit legalization of limited Indian cultural adaptation would benefit India culturally and economically, ultimately assisting the Indian entertainment industry with obtaining foreign investment on more favorable terms and further develop its burgeoning talent.

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Michael P. Goodyear