Infringement by Film Posters

Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys India

The practice of borrowing scenes, stories, photoshoots, and action scenes from Hollywood movies has become widespread in the Indian film industry, often under the guise of "inspiration." However, this practice can sometimes lead to copyright infringement if entire scenes or posters are copied without permission. Nonetheless, this may not always be the case due to the idea-expression dichotomy, which holds that only the expression of an idea is protected by copyright, and not the underlying idea itself.

We'll examine some examples of movie posters in the Indian film industry that are referred to as "inspired", but where the creator has not simply taken the "idea" but has also replicated its "expression".

  • The poster of the film "Judgementall Hai Kya," starring Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao, was accused of bearing close similarity to the original artwork of a Hungarian visual artist named Flora Borsi. As a result of the copyright infringement issues raised by Borsi, the poster was eventually withdrawn by the team of "Judgementall Hai Kya."
  • The poster of the highly anticipated movie "Bahubali: The Beginning" was found to be remarkably similar to the poster of a Hollywood film called "Simon Birch". It seems that the makers of Bahubali did not hesitate to borrow ideas and expressions to the extent that the posters of both films looked identical.
  • The posters of the Bollywood movie "Dilwale", featuring Shah Rukh Khan, were found to bear a striking resemblance to those of the Hollywood movie "The Best of Me". Despite the movie's success and memorable songs, the similarity between the posters left viewers with the impression that it was just another copycat production. The application of the idea-expression doctrine, which distinguishes between an idea and its expression, could have helped to produce clearer decisions in such cases.


Copyrights, Posters, Films, Dichotomy.

While the word "idea" is commonly used, its true connotations are often unclear. Other related terms such as "notion," "concept," and "model" all have different meanings. "Idea" is the most general term and refers to the representation of something or the formulation of an opinion, plan, or design. However, it is difficult to distinguish between unprotected ideas and protected expressions, which is an important issue. Some ideas may be too abstract to be protected by copyright, but expressions that cross a certain boundary become concrete enough to constitute infringement. It is therefore important to recognize this distinction.

The differentiation between protected expressions and unprotected ideas lies at the heart of copyright law. Although it may be possible to separate the form from the substance of a writing, and to equate the substance with the writing's idea, any idea must have some expression. As a result, differentiating between the terms "idea" and "expression" cannot serve as a fundamental criterion for determining what is protectable under copyright law. Thus, to this day, copying someone else's expressions, such as movie posters, remains a common and ongoing infringement of copyright.

Until now, there seems to be a lack of clarity in the concept of the dichotomy between ideas and expressions. The rationale for protecting expressions but not ideas is based on balancing the society's interests in the free dissemination of information with the property interests of the creator. The dichotomy between idea and expression can be interpreted in four different ways:

  1. The significant differentiation between the subject matter of a work and the protected expressions within the work;
  2. The distinction between unprotected and protected expressions;
  3. A differentiation between the subject matter of a work and the expressions that are not protected;
  4. A differentiation from earlier times between abstract ideas and any concrete manifestation of them.


The Idea-Expression Dichotomy plays a significant role in promoting creativity and avoiding monopolies in the creative industry. It is acknowledged that when the same idea is used, there will be some similarities, but the determining factor is whether these similarities relate to the fundamental or substantial aspects of the mode of expression used in the copyrighted work.


Despite its imprecise nature, the idea/expression distinction has not been abandoned because no better way has been discovered to reconcile the competing societal interests that justify granting and restricting copyright protection. These interests include rewarding individual innovation while allowing others to build upon the same subject matter and make progress and improvements.


Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys

About the Firm

Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys

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Tel91-120-313 2513, 91-120-350 5740
Contact PersonTarun Khurana

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