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2013: Bollywood Top 10: Intellectual Property Blockbusters

Bollywood is popularly known to be the “home-ground” for Masala, no pun intended, for the entertainment industry in India. Most of this “Masala” is based on a vicious cycle of gossip, disputes and patching-up. Disputes often highlight the dynamic environment of Bollywood, re-defining the Indian Entertainment scene. While most of these disputes may be non-legal, the year 2013 has brought out the Drama of Bollywood from behind the scenes to the big screen, especially the drama involving Intellectual Property squabbles.

We all know that the Copyright Act was amended in 2012 and it has brought with itself, a ripple to the functioning of the entertainment industry. 2013 has just carried on the trend and increased the intensity of these ripples, not just with the Copyright Act but with matters surrounding other IP issues too. Bollywood has become more aware of its IP rights and this is just the beginning.

We watched, observed and have brought to you our verdict on the Top-10 IP battles in Bollywood in 2013! Here is a quick look at the various IP disputes that rocked Bollywood.

10) Copycat – Band Baaja Baaraat – Jabardast case

Yash Raj Films gained the limelight once again, just before making history with Dhoom-3, when they successfully restrained producers of the Telugu movie “Jabardast” on grounds of copyright violation. YRF successfully gained an interim order in their favor from the Delhi High Court after convincing them that “Jabardast”, the Telugu movie was nothing more than a blatant copy of the popular movie “Band Baaja Baaraat”. While the makers of “Jabardast” planned to release a Tamil version of the movie, YRF also successfully restrained them from such a release claiming that they were due to release their own Tamil version of the popular romantic comedy. While the fate of the case is yet to be sealed, YRF rides high on its victory of the first battle.

9) What’s in a name? Satyagraha Case

Narayani Productions filed a suit against the producer of the film Satyagraha, Prakash Jha, claiming that they had first registered the title Satyagraha with the Indian Film and TV Producers Council (formerly Association of Motion Pictures and TV Programme Producers) in 2005. It was contented that Prakash Jha Productions went ahead and used the title without obtaining permission from the Plaintiffs. The Indian film and TV Producers Council was also made a party to the suit. It was contented by the Council that Narayani’s registration had lapsed in 2011 due to their failure to renew the application, following which, on June 15th, 2011, Jha had approached them for registration and had obtained the title. The question before the Court was whether copyright could be claimed over the title of film? The Court held that no copyright can be claimed over the title. Further, since the trademark was also not registered, no statutory right could be granted to the party. Thus, the application for injunction to restrain the release of Satyagraha was dismissed.

8) Kick-Start failure – The Bajaj Case

A hushed up matter that did not get much limelight was the case where Bajaj Auto Ltd., filed a suit against J.A. Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., owned by John Abraham, for the infringement of their trademark “Hamara Bajaj”. The Defendant was using “Humara Bajaj” as the title for its upcoming movie, which was actually a popular tag-line of a product belonging to Bajaj Autos. The Plaintiff contented that the Defendant had not obtained permission from the Plaintiff to use the trademark as the title for its movie. The Defendant explained that the title was not used to harm the reputation of the product; instead Bajaj was the name of the leading character of the movie. The Court looked at whether the trademark of company could be used as the title of movie. The Bombay High Court granted a permanent injunction against J.A. Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. and restrained them from using the names Bajaj and Humara Bajaj in the contents of the proposed film.

7) Quench your thirst – The Roohafza case

This issue came up when Hamdard, the manufacturer of the popular drink ROOHAFZA alleged that their product was portrayed in a derogatory manner in the film ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani’. In the movie, the mother tries to console her son that everything would be alright no matter what difficulties he faced and the son responds that everything could change and be alright, except for ROOHAFZA, which would remain the same and continue to be bad. The Plaintiff argued that the test of commercial disparagement be extended to the dialogues of the film since the hero, who was a promoter of the drink Pepsi, was imparting dialogues that were detrimental to the drink ROOHAFZA. The Plaintiffs therefore filed a suit for infringement of trademark, passing off, commercial disparagement and tarnishment of goodwill and damages. The question before the Court was whether an infringement of trademark could be caused by the spoken words and visual depiction of the same in the form of presentation in a movie. The Court found in favor of the Plaintiffs and held that the Plaintiffs make out a prima facie case for infringement of trademark and passing off, which may injure the reputation of the Plaintiffs. However, since the film was set to release, no injunction could be passed at that stage directing the Defendants to make alterations in the released movie, but the Defendants were asked to edit the movie before it released the home video version or any version of the movie on television.

6) The John Doe chronicles – Dhoom-3

In a rising trend of obtaining John Doe orders, Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd., asked the Delhi High court to restrain cable operators from illegally “communicating or distributing” the movie ‘Dhoom-3’ and sought injunction against illegal copying, distribution, communication of the movie either by cable operators or by others through the medium of internet. Apart from restraining cable operators from illegally showing the movie, they also sought to give directions to ISPs to remove access to websites, which may illegally host the film, within 48 hours of receiving a written complaint from the production house as per a Madras High Court order. The Delhi High court granted the order in favor of the Plaintiff and asked various internet providers to block all sites from illegally communicating the movie.

5) “Jai Ho” – Do song titles enjoy trademark protection?

Sohail Khan’s movie titled “Jai Ho” has landed itself in the middle of a legal controversy for trademark infringement. The title “Jai Ho” is also the title for the hugely popular song ‘Jai Ho’ that helped A.R. Rahman land an Oscar, also for which Mr. Rahman has trademark protection.

While the matter is rumored to be settled out of Court, the question as to whether song titles can obtain trademark protection based on the concept of “secondary meaning”, remains unanswered.

4) “Kitne format thay?” (SHOLAY CASE)

Ramesh Sippy’s company filed a case claiming that he was a partner in the M/s Sippy Films that had financed the movie Sholay, the all-time popular movie. Being the owner of the movie he claimed that the making of Sholay 3D by the Respondent without his consent, was infringement under the Copyright Act. When Mr. Sippy retired from the firm just before the release of the movie, the firm was re-instituted and he joined back as partner. Later, due to other reasons, the partnership firm dissolved. After 2 years SMEPL was incorporated. A gift deed was executed granting all copyrights in Sholay to SMEPL. The Respondent argued that it was the work of G.P. Sippy, the Appellant’s father and not of the Appellant. The Appellant had just directed the film and he was remunerated for the same, and thus did not hold a copyright. The Respondent also argued that the right was vested with SMEPL, not with the Appellant. The Court held that in the past 40 years, the Appellant had never raised any objection regarding Sholay. Even when asked in an interview about the 3D film, he still didn’t raise any objection. Thus the Appellant was very much aware of the 3D production of Sholay before the said suit was filed in the Delhi High Court and had not objected then. The Authorship of work comes when the film is released but Mr. Sippy retired before it. The Court held that the Appellant could not make out a prima facie case of copyright infringement in the instant case. The Appellant was also unable to show that he would suffer irretrievable harm or injury. Stay was not granted.

3) 1.5 crore Knock out

A case continuing since 2010, is the one where 20th Century Fox filed a suit against the Indian producer of film ‘Knock Out’ alleging that Indian producers had infringed Fox’s copyright in the script for the movie ‘Phone Booth’. Plaintiff contended that, in its script, a person gets trapped in a phone booth in a hostage situation and comes clean about his extra-martial affair and in the Defendant’s film, a person gets trapped in a phone booth but the movie revolves around politicians. The Defendant argued that the copyright could not be claimed over an idea of the film. The issue before the Court was whether there was copyright over an idea in the first place. The Single Judge of High Court granted the interim injunction. Later, it was vacated by a Division Bench of High Court. The Court recorded that the suit was being disposed in terms of the ‘Minutes of the Order’ submitted to the court by both the parties. In 2013, this case, that was lying low for the past couple of years, ended up being a landmark case, making history when the court awarded 1.5 crore as compensation to 20th Century Fox, the highest penalty ever in India for such a dispute.

2) Zanjeer 2.0

This is an instance of a case that has gathered much limelight and made a lot of noise when Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, filed a suit for injunction against the Defendants Sumeet Mehra and others (Prakash Mehra’s heirs), to restrain them from releasing the remake of “Zanjeer”. The Plaintiff claimed that the movie was written by the Plaintiffs, and that Prakash Mehra had never remunerated them. They claimed that they had granted a one-time permission to Prakash Mehra to make the movie, thus the permission remained granted only till 1973 and didn’t extend beyond it. The Plaintiffs argued that as per Sections 18 and 19 of the Copyright Act the right to remake the movie continued to remain with the Plaintiffs and the film could not be remade without the written consent of the Plaintiffs. The question was whether the consent of the writers was required to remake the movie. The Court held that since the Plaintiffs were paid Rs 55,000 each by Prakash Mehra and the Defendants were his heirs, the same right to remake would be enjoyed by them. No injunction order was passed. Later, an appeal was filed before the Division Bench, which was withdrawn by the Plaintiff, as the parties reached a settlement.

1) The IPRS regime

The biggest bang in 2013 was created by the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS), which has become a crackdown expert in relation to use of copyrighted works of artists. From hotels to pubs, discotheques to business entities, armed with the Copyright Act and an army of musicians and lyricists, the IPRS has transformed into a ruthless knight in shining armor, confiscating due payment on behalf of artists. A few popular instances include, the crack down on singer Arijit Singh’s performance in Jaipur for not obtaining a valid license for the live performance, the introduction of tax for broadcasting musical works in hotels and so on. A relentless guardian nevertheless, the show will go on…

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