Confusion over film rights

Singaporean writer Balli Kaur Jaswal will be meeting with her Singapore publisher Epigram Books and filmmakers from Akanga Film Asia this week to negotiate the rights to her first published novel, Inheritance.
Singaporean writer Balli Kaur Jaswal will be meeting with her Singapore publisher Epigram Books and filmmakers from Akanga Film Asia this week to negotiate the rights to her first published novel, Inheritance.PHOTO: ST FILE

Writer Balli Kaur Jaswal, publisher Epigram Books and Akanga Film Asia are meeting this week to resolve the issue about a film inspired by her book Inheritance

A scuffle erupted over the weekend regarding film rights for Singaporean writer Balli Kaur Jaswal's first published novel, illustrating gaps in the local print-to-screen process.

The author, her Singapore publisher Epigram Books and filmmakers from Akanga Film Asia are meeting this week to negotiate the rights.

Earlier, Epigram was left out of discussions for a film project inspired by Jaswal's book Inheritance, with both the writer and Akanga Film Asia assuming the other would keep the publisher informed.

The movie adaptation was commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts as a performance project where ticketholders would be part of the filming process.

The film would be shot by noted director K. Rajagopal and screened during the festival from June to September this year.

However, last Friday, Epigram, which also has a say in film rights, said it had learnt of the movie project only from a news article in The Straits Times published last Tuesday.

 

Publisher Edmund Wee expressed his dismay in a strongly worded e-mail to Mr Fran Borgia of Akanga Film Asia. "Surely you cannot make a movie of the same name from the novel without paying for the rights to do so," he wrote.

"Imagine my shock on reading it. Your mere announcement without our knowledge or permission is already a breach of the law."

The e-mail was copied to The Straits Times as well as the National Arts Council's covering chief executive officer, Mr Paul Tan, and Mr Peter Schoppert, president of the Singapore Book Publishers Association.

Mr Borgia, 37, responded immediately, saying he and the director had met twice with the author to talk about adapting the book.

They had also followed up via e-mail to negotiate the rights, expecting that Jaswal would keep Epigram informed.

"It has never been our intention not to pay for the rights," he wrote in an e-mail also copied to The Straits Times. "We all share our love for this book and hope we can come to an agreement for us to be able to make a film 'inspired by' Inheritance."

The film will centre on a wedding scene not actually in the novel, but inspired by it.

Inheritance is a story about mental health issues in a Singaporean family of Punjabi heritage. It was first published in 2013 by Australian press Sleepers Publishing.

Epigram republished it here last June, along with Jaswal's second novel, Sugarbread.

Inheritance is one of two lead titles that the Singapore publisher will use to launch itself in the United Kingdom this May.

Jaswal, 34, said via e-mail that while she had met the film-makers, "it was never made clear to me that I should discuss the adaptation and rights with Epigram".

She added that in her experience with Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows, producers and the publishers negotiated directly.

The three parties are meeting this week to resolve the issue.

Mr Wee told The Straits Times that while the film-makers had apologised and made clear there was no intention to cheat, the episode illustrates the poor understanding here of intellectual property rights.

Mr Borgia said: "It was a simple miscommunication and we had no intention of leaving Epigram out of it.

"I do hope we, as film-makers, can work closely with writers and publishers to get local books adapted. Only good things would come out of such collaborations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Confusion over film rights'. Print Edition | Subscribe