13th April 2020

Recreation of Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings- is it copyright violation? -Rajeshwari Hariharan

Just see the  image below:

Source: https://www.indiatoday.in/lifestyle/celebrity/story

The famous photographer Venket Ram has recreated Raja Ravi Varma’s painting using various artists, including Shruti Hassan to come out with a his new 2020 Calendar. Old story. But it makes me think – is it a violation of any copyright? Just to clear the air, as per public domain sources, Raja Ravi Verma  gave away the rights in his paintings to German printing technician Schleicher in 1910. As per our Copyright Act, copyright in paintings is not indefinite – the term is 60 years and obviously it has expired.  Many may not know – but Ravi Varma himself created copies of his own paintings for those who loved his work. And so did many of his family members. 

Welcome to the new age of “art appropriators” whose only job is to recycle culture. Art appropriators are artists who use pre-existing artistic works and transform them into another work that generally has a resemblance to the first work. It is very common in case of artistic works, such as photographs and paintings.  One may use a black and white painting and create a sculpture out of it. In our Copyright law, it may even qualify as a derivative work/adaptation.

Quite like what Venkat Ram has done. It is a commendable unique work as an artist & photographer. Because Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings are no longer protected by copyright, this re-creation should not invite such issues.

 However, if it was still protected by copyright- then?  Surely, it would be necessary for Venkat Ram to take permission from Ravi Varma or his descendants.

Now with the digital revolution, there has been a paradigm shift in the art of photography as well. You can take a picture and transform it using various tools like photoshop so that the transformed image is very different, though it is reminiscent of the original.

In the case of Rogers V Koons (960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992) the question before the court was whether the

There are a few foreign cases that deal with this issue whether the use of a photograph for the purpose of making sculptures intended as social commentary was a fair use. The Court held that it is not fair use and does amount to copyright violation. If such a scenario presented itself in the Indian courts, they may take the same view. Such works, in my view would fall under the category of ‘derivative works’ or ‘adaptations’ and would require permission of the original author. Venkat Ram though may face no such issues.

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