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NEW DELHI: A complaint against Yash Raj Films by a viewer, who felt the exclusion of a song from its 2016 film Fan amounted to cheating, has made film producers and trade experts anxious. The film industry feels this could lead to more frivolous consumer complaints going forward, for edited scenes or dialogues forcing them to add disclaimers to promotional material of curtailing their trailers in the run-up to releases. 

For now, the Supreme Court has stayed the NCDRC (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Council) order calling this an unfair trade practice and issued notices to the CBFC and the complainant but the matter is subjudice.

“The risks to content creators in such scenarios are that they could be held liable for a creative decision or strategy call of not including something that had been marketed, and costs not accounted for would have to be expended, thus affecting their profitability and creative freedom," Chandrima Mitra, partner at DSK Legal said. 

Apart from having to ensure at the time of promotion and marketing that whatever material they are showing the public will not be cut from the film later, producers would also be wary that cases may get filed against them at the time of release, which could serve as negative publicity and hinder others from watching the film, Mitra added.

The complaints will not be limited to only songs, but can be for deleted scenes, change in dialogues that were previewed in the trailer or teaser. “This could also lead to numerous frivolous and vexatious cases which will not only increase the burden of the courts in India, but will make producers cautious about the edits they are making or discourage them from releasing too many promotional songs, trailers or posters for fear of unwanted litigation," Mitra said.

Neerav Merchant, partner, Majmudar & Partners, said globally, viewers have raised consumer disputes against various producers, including Warner Bros and Walt Disney, for misleading trailers, and the final judgment on the case may lead to film producers being held to a higher level of accountability and various practices needing to be re-looked at.

Nishit Dhruva, managing partner at MDP &Partners, Advocates and Solicitors, said the complainant has argued the omission of a song shown in the trailer led to an unreasonable expectation that it would be included in the movie. On the other hand, though, there has been no deficiency of service since there is no actual binding agreement between the viewer and producer.

YRF did not respond to Mint’s queries on the case. An email sent to the CBFC also went unanswered. However, Abhishek Malhotra, managing partner at TMT Law Practice that represented YRF said while actual fines imposed on producers in such cases may be nominal, it is more about the impact on their freedom of speech and expression and the right to carry out business besides the expense of seeking legal advice. “There is no way of finding out whether the person even went to watch the film," Malhotra said.

A film producer who did not wish to be named said the incident may lead to caution on part of filmmakers going forward, who may decide to insert disclaimers on promotional songs. “But it could lead to all kinds of complaints, like saying the full song doesn’t appear in the film, if it’s been cut short or speed edited, for example," the person said.

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