Eric Linge, Pitt Law '09, files from Mumbai:
If you've seen Mission Impossible 2 you remember Tom Cruise hanging from the cliff by one arm. Chances are you've never seen the Telugu-language version of the same film, where a fat, middle-age hero, Balayya, finds himself in the same predicament. Climbing the sheer mountain was going fine for Balayya until he risked his life to save a bunny stuck on the rock face. Slipping while saving the bunny, he ended up holding the bunny in one arm and hanging from the cliff by the other.
Copyright infringement of U.S. films seems to be rife in Indian cinema, but a successful prosecution has never been made. The bunny could make all the difference. Balayya's scene is obviously a direct rip-off of Tom Cruise's, but Tom Cruise, as I remember, did not save any bunnies. The addition of the bunny could keep the film from being a copyright infringer.
Much more famous than the Telugu-language films of "Tollywood" are the Hindi-language films of "Bollywood" (a forced conjunction of Hollywood with Bombay, now Mumbai, where I am), and copyright infringement would seem to be just as flagrant in them. "Indianized" versions of Hollywood hits are a common occurrence in Bollywood. A director starts with a U.S. film script, pays low wages to a writer to scatter singing and dancing numbers throughout the movie, and an Indianized film is born. My Best Friend's Wedding, Some Like it Hot, and Reservoir Dogs have all been Indianized like this. It has been reported that eight of ten Bollywood scripts are "inspired by" Hollywood scripts.
While Indian cinema is more star-driven and less script-driven, U.S. cinema is converse to this. Indian directors say they'd rather use a proven a script and add the stars than to spend money to create a script from scratch that audiences might dislike.
India's Copyright Act of 1957, as amended in 1994, is thoroughly modern and in complete compliance with the TRIPS agreement, the part of the WTO protecting copyright. Yet there have been no successful prosecutions in Indian courts so far, and it is unlikely that future prosecutions would be either. Indian courts have held in the past that a work "inspired by" a copyrighted work is not necessarily an infringement. Adding bunnies and songs and dances could likely be enough to make the Indian film an original work of art in the eyes of the Indian courts.
The alternative to the Indian courts would be dispute resolution through the WTO. Through this mechanism the U.S. could impose punitive sanctions on India, but only if the U.S. can prove infringement has been allowed to take place.