US company sues Studio18 for copyright infringement

MUMBAI: Two years after the release of Singh Is Kinng, its distributor Viacom18 has been sued in the US on grounds of copyright infringement by the American Rights Management Company.

According to the lawsuit filed yesterday in New York District Court, the company has claimed that the Viacom-distributed film Singh is King is a rip-off of the 1929 short story Madame La Gimp made by Damon Runyon.

The film has also been copied from films like Frank Capra‘s Lady For A Day, A Pocket Full Of Miracles and Jackie Chan‘s Miracles, the lawsuit claims.

According to the complaint, the company obtained rights from Sheldon Abend‘s Author‘s Research Company in 2000. 

Abend was an esteemed literary agent who represented the estates of authors including Runyon, George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, David O. Selznick and many others.

In the 1980s, Abend took on MCA, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jimmy Stewart in court after the classic film Rear Window was shown on television.

Abend controlled the underlying short story that served as the basis of the film, and the case culminated in a landmark 1990 Supreme Court decision that established the so-called ‘Abend Rule‘ that deals with the continued distribution of a derivative work during the copyright renewal period of the underlying work.

Since Abend emerged victorious in that case, there haven‘t been many lawsuits targeting distribution of derivative works, but that could be changing.

In 2008, the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust sued DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg over Disturbia, a film that was either inspired by or directly stolen from Rear Window.

The litigation has been stuck in the pre-trial phase since the case was filed. In early April, the plaintiff filed a memorandum with the New York District Court on why the case should be heard.

In its lawsuit in the Singh Is Kinng case, the American Rights Management Company has claimed damages to the tune of $30,000 per infringement, and/or $150,000 per willful infringement.

Apart from Viacom18 and Studio18, companies like The Indian Film Company, Vipul Shah‘s (producer) Blockbuster Entertainment, Reliance MediaWorks, Big Home Video, MTV India and Viva Entertainment - involved with the film in various ways - have also been named in the lawsuit.

Produced by Vipul Shah and directed by Anees Bazmee, Singh Is Kinng stars Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sonu Sood and Kirron Kher.

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