Landmark judgments on Copyright

 · 6 mins read

-by Nathalia M Fenwick

In India law relating to copyright is governed by the Copyright Act, 1957. Copyright is generally granted for artistic, musical and dramatic works. It is the protection granted to the expression of ideas. Such kind of protection enables the original authors, writers, directors, composers, designers and others covered under copyright to retain their originality and also encourages many others to create or work upon their ideas. Copyright being one among the other intangible rights protected under law does not entirely create a monopoly and restrict the distribution of the works. It, however grants protection to the original copyright owner over others in case of piracy or duplicity. In this article, some of the landmark judgments covering OTT platforms and films are discussed in brief. This will enable us to understand the functioning and the importance of the copyright in a more practical view.

  1. Sajeev Pillai v. Venukunnapalli & Anr.[1]- The issue in this case was whether, the original author of the work even after assignment has the special rights to claim authorship under section 57(1) of the Copyright Act. Here, the appellant Sajeev Pillai, claims to have done extensive research in the history of the grand festival mamankam and prepared a script for a movie based on the same. He signed an MoU with Kavya Film productions after he met Venu Kunnapalli. Sajeev Pillai was initially appointed as the director of the movie, but later on was terminated and replaced by another person. After the completion of the movie, Sajeev Pillai claims the movie to be made by mutilating, distorting and modifying his original script. He filed for multiple reliefs including the interim relief to restrain the movie from being released and distributed without giving proper credits to the appellant. The court by taking recourse to section 57(1) noted that the said section provides the right to the author to restrain third parties and also claim damages from the later in case of distortion or modification. Thus, the court granted the interim relief and held that even after assignment, the original author’s rights over his authorship would not be exhausted.
  2. YRF v. Sri Sai Ganesh Productions[2]- In this case, a copyright infringement suit was filed by YRF against Sri Sai Ganesh Productions & Ors, alleging that the latter had in its movie called ‘jabardasht’ blatantly copied the movie ‘Band Baja Baarat’ produced under the banner of YRF. It was alleged that the movie had striking similarities with respect to plot, theme, characters, concept, story and sketches. The issues before the court were; whether the copyright can subsist independently in a cinematographic works, does the expression ‘make a copy of the film’ under section 14 only includes physical copying and whether there is a substantial and material similarities between both the movies. The court while delivering its judgment referred to MRF liited v. Metro Tyres Ltd. and observed that there exists in the cinematographic work an independent form from that of the others comprising it with a requirement of originality as can be found from section 13(1) (b), 13 (3) (a)and 2(d) of the Copyright Act. On the second issue, the court held that, section 14 (d) covers not only physical copying by duplication. Furthermore, the court relied on the R.G Anand’s case and tried to find out what was the viewers point of view and came to the conclusion that the movie was blatantly copied in its very essential, fundamental and distinctive features of the original movie.
  3. Raj Television Network Limited v. Kavithalaya Productions Private Limited and Ors. [3]- In this case, the first defendant is the original copyright author of the said 34 movies and he assigned the rights to the plaintiff for a period of 99 years with a consideration of 65000 rupees. The plaintiff had agreed not to assign further. He had been exploiting the movies in DVD marketing and through satellite television SUN Network and various other OTT Platforms. Later on the defendant came to know about two movies ‘duet’ and ‘Annamalai’ being streamed on 3rd defendant’s OTT platform. Here, the first defendant contended that the plaintiff did not possess any such rights and thereby it’s illegal. However, the court passed the interim order in favor of the plaintiff.
  4. Shamoil Ahmed Khan v. Falguni Shah and Ors.[4]- In the present case, the plaintiff is the original author of the popular story ‘Singardaan’. The defendant is the producer of the web series with the same title and similar plot. The plot of both revolves around a mirror, which brings out a different behavior or appearance in the person. The court observed that “In a written work of art, such as the story with which we are concerned here, a germ of an idea is developed into a theme and then into a plot and then fnal story with the help of characters and settings. It is a combination of all these elements which give a body to the work to a substance to it.” The court after considering all the facts before it, ordered for an interim order restraining the defendant from making further adaptations pending the final disposal of the case.
  5. Vinay Vats v. Fox Star Studios India Pvt. Ltd and ors[5]- In this case, the plaintiff is the writer and the defendant a production house. The writer is claiming to have written ‘Tukkaa fit’ and filed a suit against the defendant just few days before the release of the movie ‘lootcase’ saying that it had striking resemblance to the story he had originally written. The defendants on the other hand contended that the story line was a common one used in several other movies and they had obtained all rights to acquire the plot and also paid certain sum of amount. Here, the court held that filing the suit just few days before the release when the trailer was released a year ago is likely to be motivated and thereby the interim relief was not ordered in favor of the plaintiff.

Conclusion-

The original owner is the person who under law gets protection against all others. The above discussed case laws highlight the protection accorded to the prior owner in all cases of subsequent infringement or piracy. It is also to be noted that copyright is granted for the expressions and not mere ideas. Just because one had an idea to do something doesn’t give him any protection, it is that person who expressed his ideas in any medium gets the copyright protection. The Copyright Act 1957 is a comprehensive legislation which protects the original owners and penalizes the persons who infringe such rights.

  1. FAO No. 191 of 2019.

  2. CS (COMM) 1329/ 2016.

  3. O.A No. 446 of 2020 in C.S. (Comm. Div.) No. 244 of 2020.

  4. MANU/MH/0590/2020.

  5. I.A 6351/2020 in CS (COMM.) 291/2020.