Sholay Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Parag Sanghavi & Ors.

Case Title: Sholay Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. & Ors.v. Parag Sanghavi & Ors.

Citation: 223 (2015) DLT 152, MIPR 2015 (3) 0096

Brief Facts:
The dispute is centered around the highly popular movie ‘Sholay’ directed by Mr. Ramesh Sippy and produced by Mr. G.P. Sippy and the movie ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’ directed by Mr. Ram Gopal Verma. Before we go into the particulars of the dispute, one must have an understanding of the ownership of the rights over the Sippy repertoire of movies.
In 1965, a partnership firm by the name of M/s. Sippy Films was established for the production of the films belonging to the Sippy repertoire. In 1976, Mr. Ajit Sippy, one of the sons of Mr. G.P. Sippy, was admitted as a partner in the said firm. Later that year, he retired as a partner. In 1997, Sippy Films Pvt. Ltd., a company which was incorporated under the leadership of Mr. G.P. Sippy, was admitted as a partner in the partnership firm. The partnership firm was dissolved in the year 1998 and the ownership of rights over the film ‘Sholay’ was transferred to Sholay Media and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.
In 1999, the Plaintiffs announced a sequel to ‘Sholay’ and wanted to engage Mr. Ram Gopal Verma as the director of the new film. However, as Mr.Ram Gopal Verma wanted to make a modern day remake of ‘Sholay’ rather than a sequel, the discussions for the production of the new movie came to an end. In 2003, Mr. Ram Gopal Verma approached the plaintiffs requesting for a license to remake ‘Sholay’. However, the negotiations failed between the parties. Later, Plaintiffs on being informed that Mr. Ram Gopal Verma was directing a movie under the title ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Sholay’ filed a suit against the defendants. Consequently, an undertaking to change the title of the movie to ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’ was recorded.
In 2008, a suit was filed by the Plaintiffs against Mr.Ajit Sippy for falsely claiming that he had ownership of the rights over ‘Sholay’. The Court held that Mr.Ajit Sippy, owing to his retirement from the partnership, had ceased having any rights over ‘Sholay’. The Defendants, however, claim that they procured rights over the film from Mr.Ajit Sippy.
The film ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’ was released in 2007 and retains the same plot of ‘Sholay’. The character names and character traits also highly resembled the characters in the movie ‘Sholay’.
The present suit, instituted prior to the release of the film ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’ was based on the claim that the said film infringes various rights of the Plaintiffs, including copyright and trademarks, in the film ‘Sholay’.

Held: The Court granted permanent injunction with a sum of INR 10,00,000 as punitive damages.

Reasoning: The Plaintiffs were owners of the trademarks ‘SHOLAY’, ‘GABBAR’ and ‘GABBAR SINGH’ under various classes. The several publicity materials released by the Defendants in connection with the film ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’ gave an overall impression that the said movie was a remake of ‘Sholay’. The use of similar plot, characters as well as the use of the underlying music, lyrics, background score and even dialogues amounted to an infringement of the copyright in ‘Sholay’. The Court also concluded that the claim of the Defendants regarding the procurement of authorization from Mr.Ajit Sippy was not valid as Mr. Ajit Sippy had no rights over the film owing to his retirement from the partnership firm that originally owned rights over ‘Sholay’. Even though the movie ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’ was an adaptation of ‘Sholay’, the fact that the former was produced without proper authorization rendered it an act of passing off as the Plaintiffs were the owners of the names of the characters and the dialogues. The court also held that the Defendants had infringed the moral rights of the Plaintiffs as the Defendants had distorted and mutilated the original copyrighted work of the Plaintiffs.

Authored by Thomas Joseph