Art Imitates Art: Bollywood Finds Inspiration in Hollywood Films

       Many Americans do not know about Bollywood, but the rest of the world definitely does.  The largest movie industry in the world, Bollywood movies sell 3.6 billion tickets in comparison to Hollywood's 2.6 billion tickets in the year 2004. [1]  It is estimated that this year Bollywood made £1.26 billion [2] (approximately $2.6 billion US), and Bollywood has a projected growth of nineteen percent each year. [3]  Part of the way that Bollywood is able to keep making movies that gross lots of money is to take successful films from Hollywood and remake them into Bollywood blockbusters.  Movies such as Entrapment and ET have been made into Bollywood productions by changing the story to make it more akin to a musical than straight theater and making the characters more identifiable to Indian culture.  Almost eighty percent of all Bollywood films has been "inspired" by a Hollywood film. [4]  These similarities are quite apparent to people who have seen the inspirations, but to the Indian public, these movies become box office hits.  This raises a question about the ability of Bollywood screenwriters to use Hollywood storylines to create Bollywood films.  This article will examine copyright law and how it may affect this area of business.

     When most Americans think of films, they think of Hollywood, however in most of the rest of the world, Bollywood is the first word to come to mind.  The Bollywood movie industry is set in Bombay, India and turns out thousands of movies a year.  Many of these movies get their storylines from Hollywood films, yet Hollywood has yet to bring any sort of copyright action against a Bollywood producer, director or screenwriter. [5]  There has been one case where an author brought a suit for copyright infringement when her book was adapted into a television series on Indian television, however there has been no such suit in the movie industry. [6]

      Copyright law in the United States is complex and a growing area of law.  The main goal of copyright law is to protect the innovation and ingenuity of artists, writers, designers, and other creative individuals.  Doing so allows these inventors to create without fear of not recieving proper credit for their additions to society.  Under the United States Code, copyright protection can be afforded to "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression […]from which they can be perceived" and includes motion pictures. [7]  While an idea for a storyline cannot be copyrighted, if that idea is given form in a script or movie it is then copyrightable. [8]  Producers will copryright their films so as to keep the competition at bay and to capitalize to the fullest extent possible on each film.

    When a copyright is obtained for a work, it gives the owner the sole right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the work, to preform the work publicly, and to display the work, [9] Therefore movie studios, which usually hold the copyrights for the films they produce, have the sole authority to distribute their films or to make derivative works.  Derivative works are not limited to, but include telecasts of a earlier production [10] and motion pictures made based off of a screenplay [11].  Two elements must be shown under copyright law for a claim may be brought against anyone who violated the exclusive right in a copyright.  The first element is that the material in question must have a valid copyright.  The second element is that there must be "copying of constituent elements of the work that are original." [12]  Since it is difficult to determine if something is a copy, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has offered a test to establish an inference of copying.  To do so, the plaintiff must show that  the defendant had access to the original infringed work and that there is substantial similarity between the two works. [13]

     Hollywood producers would be able to bring claims against Bollywood producers for infringing on their copyrights on Hollywood movies.  The Bollywood film, Koi… Mil Gaya, was a tale similar to Steven Spielberg's famous movie E.T., yet there have been no claims from Amblin Entertainment (the studio that made the movie) [14] or Spielberg for copyright infringement.  In Koi… Mil Gaya, two young adults find an alien and take him into their lives [15], similar to the manner in which Eliot takes in E.T. in the Spielberg movie. 

     Producers in Hollywood might also look toward international law to find a resolution to this problem.  Guidelines set out by the World Trade Organization strictly prohibit the infringement of copyrighted material.  However, to date, this avenue is left untrodden and Bollywood continues to look towards Hollywood for inspiration.   



[1] Lawrence H. White, Bollywood Facts of the Day, Division of Labour, Feb. 8, 2005,

[2] Bollywood to Break Even by 2004, BBC News, Mar. 21, 2003,

[3] Id.

[4] Rachana Desai, Copyright Infringement in the Indian Film Industry, 7 Vand. J. Ent. L. & Prac. 259, 259 (Spring 2005).

[5] Id. at 260.

[6] Id. Barbara Taylor Bradford's book A Woman of Substance was turned into an Indian television series by Sahara Television. Id. Bradford brought suit against Sahara, but the Indian Supreme Court allowed the series to continue on television. Id. 

[7] 17 U.S.C. § 2002 (2000); 17 U.S.C.A. § 102 (2000).

[8] Id.

[9] Stromback v. New LIne Cinema, 384 F.3d 283, 293 (2004).

[10] Nat'l Broad. Co., Inc. v. Sonneborn, 630 F.Supp 524 (D. Conn 1985).

[11] Shoptalk Ltd. v. Concorde-New Horizons Corp., 897 F.Supp. 144 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

[12] Stromback, 384 F.3d at 293.

[13] Ellis v. Duffie, 177 F.3d 503, 506 (6th Cir. 1999).

[14] E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Internet Movie Database,

[15] Plot Summary for Koi… Mil Gaya, Internet Movie Database,