The Bombay High Court on Thursday pulled up the producers of the Telugu film “V” in connection with the use of private image of model and Bollywood actor Sakshi Malik without obtaining license from her and in a defamatory manner while hearing her defamation plea against them. (Sakshi Malik v. Venkateshwara Creations Pvt. Ltd).
Justice GS Patel came down heavily on the producer for negligence in obtaining Malik’s consent before using the image.
“What does your producer know about license? Why didn’t you go to your Hyderabad agency to check and verify before putting the images? Don’t they have stock of open-source photos? Whatever the photos may be, but at least they have consent attached to it! What is the creativity about this agency, this is theft! Does your producer have women in his family? Why didn’t he use their images in the film? It is because he knew the context in which they were going to be used. So he thought he could anybody’s image,” the Court remarked.
The controversy stemmed from the fact that Malik’s image was used in one of the scenes in the film where there is a reference to a commercial sex worker. Malik claimed that the image, which was shown in the film, was apparently lifted from her Instagram account.
On Wednesday, the High Court had ordered Amazon Prime Video to take down the movie noting that the image was not only used without consent but also used in a derogatory manner.
It had also ordered the Producer, Venkateshwara Creations Pvt. Ltd. to delete photographs from the movie before Amazon Prime can release the movie again, the Court said. The same can be done only after the Court pronounces an order to that effect, the Court had said on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Amazon Prime Video and the producer submitted before the ourt that the film has been taken down and they had also deleted the segment from the film which contained the objectionable image.
The Court, therefore, proceeded to allow the re-release of the movie but clarified that Malik’s photo cannot be used without an express approval from Malik.
Malik’s advocates Alankar Kirpekar and Saveena T Bedi (Lawhive associates) argued that Malik’s case might not be an isolated one and there could be more like her.
Kirpekar told the Court that the producers earned profits of more than Rs. 33 crore and the amount commensurate to that ought to be deposited with the High court to send out a strong message on the objectification of women.
Justice Patel agreed with the proposition stating that Malik is probably the latest but not the last in line who would have to deal with such objectification.
“This much larger than what you think it is. Mr. Kirpekar is spot on, about the objectification of women. This nonsense has got to stop. Normally objectifying of women in general and this idea of open license…? Do you realise what happens if this goes to trial? What cross examination happens? And what about the individual’s right to privacy and dignity? Where did that go,” he said.
Justice Patel also added that defamation aside, Malik could also easily get reliefs for infringement of copyright of her images.
“She could have gone for copyright infringement. We are not as protected as overseas. But here you have taken a personal photoshoot? How dare you? Straightforward copyright infringement. Independently payable,” he said.
Justice Patel also spoke to Malik during the hearing after she requested for audience from the court. After she shared her trauma and what she had to suffer on account of illicit use of her photo in the film, Justice Patel candidly asked her to decide whether she would prefer going for a settlement with the producers or proceed with the trial.
He advised her that litigation would not be an easy business and a suit would take a long time before it is finally decided.
“Litigation is not an easy business. Suit like this will lie on for a long time. And then you will be examined, and cross examined. That is not something that I can stop. Standing in court recounting all of it, it is traumatic. The result is unknown and there is always an appeal that follows. The law doesn’t allow me to take a short cut in this. If your lawyers and the other side lawyers discuss and decide on the amount payable to you. it could go to a charity of your choice or mine. The amount is upto you. If you work out a settlement, then I am sure something can be worked out by March or April or else it will go on for how long I cannot tell you,” he said.
Justice Patel directed the defendants to file their reply to the interim application in the suits so that the Court can decide on the interim costs to be aware in the matter.
The matter will be taken up for hearing again on March 25, 2021.