Sunday, October 1, 2023

Gangster Rap

A lawsuit filed by the notorious gangster against a web series over infringement of his personality rights highlights the need for a balance between creative expression and responsible storytelling.

Want create site? Find Free WordPress Themes and plugins.

The Indian entertainment industry is well-acquainted with legal disputes. The recent case of gangster Chhota Rajan filing a lawsuit in Bombay High Court against the makers of Netflix series Scoop has once again put the spotlight on the legal challenges faced by various web series in India.

Rajan accused the series of defaming him and infringing upon his personality rights. But the High Court has refused to direct the OTT platform to take down the series. This is not the first time that Indian web series have encountered legal troubles.

Born as Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, Chhota Rajan gained notoriety for his involvement in organised crime, including extortion, smuggling and contract killings. His criminal activities earned him a place on Interpol’s wanted list, leading to his arrest in Indonesia in 2015. Following extradition to India, he has been facing more than 70 criminal cases and is lodged in Tihar Jail.

Rajan’s lawsuit against the makers of Scoop centres around the alleged violation of his personality rights. Personality rights encompass an individual’s right to control the commercial use of his name, image or likeness without consent. Rajan claims that the series portrayed his character without obtaining his permission, thereby infringing upon these rights.

This lawsuit raises important legal questions regarding the boundaries of freedom of expression, artistic license and the responsibilities of content creators. Striking a balance between the right to freedom of speech and expression and the protection of an individual’s reputation and personality rights is a complex matter for courts to consider.

In the context of personality rights, Indian law recognises an individual’s right to control the use of his name, image and likeness for commercial purposes. In 2015, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth filed a lawsuit against Varsha Production for unauthorised use of his personality rights. The production company used Rajinikanth’s name, image and likeness in the promotional materials of its film without obtaining his consent. The court recognised Rajinikanth’s right to protect his persona and held that the unauthorised use of his personality constituted a violation of his rights. This case emphasised the importance of obtaining prior consent from individuals before using their persona for commercial purposes.

Indian courts have also repeatedly demonstrated their recognition of the vital importance of freedom of expression in artistic works. Several instances stand as testament to this recognition.
In the case of S. Rangarajan vs P. Jagjivan Ram (1989), the Supreme Court upheld the freedom of expression, stressing that the artistic medium allows for the exploration and expression of diverse ideas and opinions. In the case of Amrit Nahata vs Union of India (1992), the Court upheld the right of filmmakers to challenge societal norms and provoke debates through their films. Additionally, in the case of Prakash Jha Productions vs Union of India (2011), the Court asserted that artists have the right to present their artistic creations freely, even if they touch upon sensitive or controversial subjects.

Determining whether the portrayal of Rajan in Scoop constitutes a violation of his personality rights will require an analysis of the commercial aspects of the series and the extent to which his identity has been exploited.

Indian web series have encountered their fair share of legal troubles, highlighting the challenges content creators face in navigating the legal landscape. As web series gain popularity, it becomes crucial for creators and platforms to be mindful of potential legal issues and ensure compliance with legal requirements and societal norms. A prominent example is the series Tandav, which faced numerous complaints and legal challenges for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting violence.

Tandav, a political drama streamed on Amazon Prime Video, found itself in significant legal trouble due to allegations of insulting Hindu gods and goddesses and portraying a particular community derogatorily. Multiple complaints were filed against the series, resulting in criminal charges and demands for a ban. To address the concerns raised, certain scenes were edited and modified. This case underscores the sensitivity surrounding religious sentiments and the impact of online content on societal harmony, emphasising the need for content creators to exercise caution and adhere to legal and ethical guidelines when exploring challenging subjects.

Likewise, the popular web series Mirzapur faced legal challenges when a lawyer filed a case against it, alleging that it portrayed the city of Mirzapur and its inhabitants negatively, tarnishing the city’s image. This case raises questions about content creators’ responsibility in depicting real locations and communities and their potential influence on public perception.

The web series Sacred Games also ran into legal challenges. Based on Vikram Chandra’s novel, the crime thriller series faced a defamation complaint by Kolkata-based Congress politician Rajeev Kumar Sinha. He alleged that certain scenes insulted late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. During a particular scene in the fourth episode, the character portrayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui uses the term “fattu” for Rajiv Gandhi, which was translated in the subtitles as “pussy”. The case underwent various twists and turns, with the court ultimately dismissing the plea against the show’s writer, directors and producers.

This legal challenge highlighted the delicate balance between artistic expression and potential defamation concerns in the portrayal of real-life individuals. Content creators should be aware of the legal ramifications of going too far and exercise caution when depicting characters inspired by real people, ensuring they do not cross the line into defamatory territory.
Meanwhile, Paatal Lok, a crime thriller series which streamed on Amazon Prime Video, faced accusations of promoting caste discrimination. A criminal complaint was filed against the show, alleging that it depicted a particular community in a negative light and perpetuated stereotypes. The outcome remains to be seen.

Such legal activism is not just limited to Indian OTT shows alone. Recently, political analyst Mithun Vijay Kumar sent a legal notice to Netflix over an episode of popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. According to Kumar, the episode allegedly used a derogatory term against Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit, resulting in significant outrage and concern among her fans and well-wishers. In the episode titled “The Bad Fish Paradigm” from the second season of The Big Bang Theory, the characters Sheldon Cooper and Raj Koothrappali can be seen watching television together. Cooper, known for his know-it-all nature, points to a woman on the screen, questioning if she was Aishwarya Rai. “Yes, isn’t she an amazing actress?” replies Koothrappali. Cooper pontificates: “I’d say she’s a poor man’s Madhuri Dixit.” Immediately, an incensed Koothrappali replied: “How dare you? Aishwarya Rai is a goddess! By comparison Madhuri Dixit is a leprous prostitute!” It remains to be seen how Netflix will handle the situation and what, if any, steps it will take to rectify the alleged harm caused.

The emergence of digital platforms and the rise of web series have revolutionised the entertainment landscape. But it is crucial to strike a balance between creative expression and responsible storytelling while adhering to legal and ethical boundaries.

—By Shashank Rai and India Legal Bureau

Did you find apk for android? You can find new Free Android Games and apps.

News Update