Case Brief: YRF v Sri Sai Ganesh Productions
Yash Raj Films Pvt Ltd (Plaintiff) v. Sri Sai Ganesh Productions and Ors. (Defendants)
Decided on 8 July 2019 by the High Court at New Delhi
CS (COMM) 1329/2016
This is a suit for copyright infringement of the movie Band Baja Baarat produced by Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd. by a Telegu movie named Jabardasth produced by Sri Sai Ganesh Productions. The Telegu film was made without taking permission or any rights from the original film’s producers. Yash Raj Films (the ‘plaintiff’) sued Sri Sai Ganesh Productions, the director and the distributor of the Telegu film (collectively referred as the ‘defendants’) which led to the decision of the Delhi High Court analysed hereunder.
Yash Raj Films (YRF), a renowned production house and the plaintiff in this matter, is the producer of the Bollywood film, Band Baja Baarat which was released on December 10, 2010 in India and other countries. The Plaintiff holds copyright in various original works in this film, including but not limited to the storyline, dialogues, theme, concept, plot, script, music, lyrics and character sketches. YRF even proclaimed through a public notice in May 2011 that it had not sold the copyrights of the film to any third party and was the sole owners of the same. Around December 2011, the Plaintiff came to know that Sri Sai Ganesh Productions, one of the defendants in this case, intended to remake the film in Telegu. The plaintiff sent two cease and desist notices to the defendants, one in January 2012 and the other in April 2012 but received no response. Subsequently, the defendants released a trailer, following the Plaintiff issued the Third Legal Notice requesting a copy of the Impugned Movie and the Script before the release of the Impugned Movie. The defendants did not respond to the third notice either, and instead released the film titled Jabardasth in February 2013. The defendants had also sold their rights to a Tamil production house for its remake, which was to be released in April 2013. The plaintiff filed a copyright infringement suit against the defendants for blatantly copying the plot, theme and character-sketch of their movie. On 6th March, 2013 the Court granted an ex-parte ad interim injunction in favour of the Plaintiff. Defendant No. 3 acknowledged the plaintiff to be the owner of the copyright of the script, screenplay, dialogues and all other works which could be copyright of the Plaintiff’s Movie.
Issues and Holdings
The High Court considered the following issues:1. Can copyright subsist in a cinematograph film independent of the underlying works that it is comprised of?Held: Copyright in a cinematograph film exists independent of its underlying works, as each underlying work as well as the film itself are independent works. 2. Can the expression ‘to make a copy of the film’ under Section 14 mean making physical copy of the film only? Is there substantial and material similarity between the two films?Held: The expression ‘to make a copy of the film’ under Section 14 is not just restricted to making physical copies. There is substantial and material similarity between the scenes and plot points in two films. 3. Does the Delhi High Court have the jurisdiction to hear the present matter? Held: The Delhi High Court has the necessary jurisdiction to hear and pass order in the present matter, as the film was released in New Delhi although no part of the preparation of the defendants’ film was made there.
Rule of Law
A cinematograph film is an original copyrightable work by itself independent of the underlying works and is subjected to the protection under Copyright Act, 1957.
The issues and the holdings that have been identified in this matter can be further analysed as under:
Analysis of Issue 1:
The Court held that for the purpose of copyright law, a cinematograph film is seen in a wider perspective than just an assortment of its underlying works. The term “underlying works” here refers to the different kinds of creative and original works that go into making an entire cinematograph film. For instance, the script and dialogues come under literary works; the lyrics of the songs under musical works; the complete songs come within the purview of sound recordings; posters and advertisements as artistic works, etc. While each of these underlying works claim individual copyright protection under the Copyright Act, 1957, a cinematograph film as a whole is also entitled to be protected under the Act. Thus, reiterating its previous decision in MRF Limited v. Metro Tyres Limited, CS(COMM) 753/2017 (1st July 2019), the Court held that even though a cinematograph film may not be infringing any of the underlying works, the film as a whole may not be copyrightable for want of ‘originality’. The fact that a cinematograph film infringes on another film can be a valid reason for lack of ‘originality’ and thus will not be protected under the copyright law. The Court further added that even though the term ‘original’ is absent from the text of Section 13 (1) (b) of the Act which talks about copyright in cinematograph films, the requirement of “originality” can be clearly derived from Section 13 (3) (a) and 2 (d) of the said Act. It clarified the point that copyright shall not subsist in a cinematograph film if a substantial part of it is infringing the copyright of any other work [Para 14].
Analysis of Issue 2:
The Court further held that the expression “to make a copy of the film” under Section 14 (d) (i) of the Act is not restricted to making only physical copies of the film by the process of duplication. It also means copying the idea, expression and other intangible aspects of an existing cinematograph film and incorporating them in another film. To determine the originality of a film, the Court referred to the test laid down in the landmark case of R.G. Anand v. Deluxe Films, 4 SCC 118 (1978) wherein it was held that in such matters, the Court must compare “the substance, the foundation, the kernel” of the two films in question. It is imperative to understand whether an average viewer who is made to watch both the films would get the unmistakable impression that one is the copy of the other. In the present case, the Court found that the defendants, in their film Jabardasth, had blatantly copied the fundamental, essential and distinctive features of the plaintiff’s film, Band Baja Baarat [Para 15]. The defendant acknowledged the plaintiff to be the owner of the copyright in script, screenplay, dialogues and other works which could be copyrightable by the plaintiff. The Court admitted on record nineteen (19) exact similarities between the two films which are tabulated below:
|S. No.||BAND BAAJA BAARAAT||JABARDASTH|
|1.||Hero and his friend go to a random wedding and have free food there because cook at the wedding is a known guy (to Hero)||Hero and his friend go to a random wedding and have free food there because cook at the wedding is a known guy (to Hero’s friend)|
|2.||Idea of heroine telling her parents that she wants to start her own business, become big and then only get married or else she will have to keep taking care of the house and her kids all her life.||Idea of heroine telling her parents that she wants to start her own business, become big and then only get married or else she will have to keep taking care of the house and her kids all her life.|
|3.||Heroine wants to start a wedding planning company||Heroine wants to start an event management (mostly wedding planning) company|
|4.||Hero & Heroine join leading wedding planner to learn business||Heroine considers joining leading wedding planner to learn business|
|5.||Hero offered the job first with the Leading wedding planner (Chandha) and then hero convinces her to take heroine also||Hero gets the job first with the Leading wedding planner and then hero is forced to convince her to take heroine also|
|6.||Hero & Heroine quit and start their own wedding planning company||Hero and Heroine start their own event management company|
|7.||Known flower guy introduces a new cook instead of the earlier established cook||Known flower lady introduces a new cook instead of the earlier established cook.|
|8.||Heroine’s father comes to the first wedding organized and meets the Hero||Heroine’s father comes to the first event organized and meets the Hero|
|9.||Decision to plan small budget weddings to begin with||Decision to plan small budget events to begin with|
|10.||Hero & Heroine get big break when they convince a rich engaged couple and get their wedding planning contract||Hero & Heroine get big break when they convince a rich guy to plan his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary|
|11.||Heroine falls in love with the Hero after the first big wedding||Heroine falls in love with the Hero after the first big event|
|12.||Heroine comes to know Hero not in love with her||Heroine comes to know Hero not in love with her|
|13.||Hero & Heroine part ways and start their individual wedding planning companies||Hero & Heroine part ways and start their individual event management companies|
|14.||Both falter in their respective management due to the absence of the other||Both falter in their respective management due to the absence of the other|
|15.||Due to certain circumstances they are forced to work together again||Due to certain circumstances they are forced to work together again|
|16.||Hero asks the Heroine to forget the past and become business partners again||Hero asks the Heroine to forget the past and become business partners again|
|17.||Heroine already engaged to another guy in a foreign country||Heroine already engaged to another guy in a foreign country|
|18.||Hero & Heroine confess their love for each other||Hero & Heroine confess their love for each other|
|19.||Ainvai Ainvai hand movement dance step||Similar step in the first song|
Analysis of Issue 3
The defendants had also argued that the entire process of making their film was in Hyderabad and no part of it was executed in Delhi and hence the Delhi High Court had no territorial jurisdiction in hearing or passing any order in this matter. However, the Honorable Court held that as the defendants’ film was released in Delhi along with the rest of the country, the Delhi High Court had the territorial jurisdiction over this matter [Para 17].
The Court held that a cinematograph film is essentially greater than just a conglomeration of its underlying works like literary, dramatic or musical works. Thus, copyright in a cinematograph film can subsist independent of its underlying works. Additionally, the Court also clarified that making a copy of a cinematograph film is not restricted to just making physical copies of the film but also includes copying the idea behind the film. The aspect of originality is latent in Section 13 of the Copyright Act, 1957. Justice Manmohan Singh, who heard this matter, established this as a case of copyright infringement and rightly passed a permanent injunction against the defendants, restraining them from infringing the copyrights of the plaintiff.
Authored and compiled by Anusmita Mazumder and Snehaja Rana (Associates, BananaIP Counsels)
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