Decided by High Court of Delhi on 19th January 2022.
The Plaintiff conceptualized a cricket league format wherein famous retired cricket players would play Test format of cricket with two innings of 10 (ten) overs each. The Plaintiff’s idea intended to exploit the interest in cricket of Indians residing in non-cricket playing countries. The Plaintiff started building up on the concept with the Defendants, and began correspondence with the requisite authorities and people to be involved. The format and information about the league were provided to Defendant No. 2 in strictly confidential manner. There was consensus between the Plaintiff and the Defendants at this stage to form a company, which was done in June 2018. The Plaintiff and Defendant No. 2 worked on developing the concept; however, no matches could be held owing to the ongoing pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
The Plaintiff learned from the media that the Defendants were planning to organize ‘Legends League Cricket’, instead of ‘Legends Premier League’ that was agreed amongst the parties. The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendants misappropriated the idea that the Plaintiff came up with, and that this was a clear breach of confidentiality on part of the Defendants.
The issue before the Court was whether the Plaintiff could claim copyright arising out of his ‘work’, and if he could claim breach of confidentiality on part of the Defendants.
The Court referred to S. 2(y) to assess whether Plaintiff’s idea amounted to ‘work’ within the scope of the Copyright Act, 1957 and to 2(z) to assess what amounted to work of joint authorship as per the Act.
The Court considered the arguments made by the Plaintiff and opined that to claim the remedy of injunction in the instant case, the Plaintiff would have to prove a prima facie case in its favour. The ‘balance of convenience’ as well as proof of an ‘irreparable loss and injury’ would have to be in the Plaintiff’s favour. The Court assessed what amounted to ‘work’ under the Copyright Act and concluded that the concept claimed to be ‘work’ by the Plaintiff was not within the scope of S. 2(y). The Court viewed the concept claimed by the Plaintiff in separate parts, and concluded that parts of the concept already existed in the public domain for a long time and could not be considered as original ideas of the Plaintiff. The Court said that the Plaintiff could not claim exclusive rights over ideas such as naming the teams using words such as ‘Asia’ and ‘World’ or restrict the players from participating in the Defendants’ League.
Relying on the judgment delivered in the case of R.G. Anand v. Delux Films, the Court further stated that all games of cricket would have some form of elements that were common or were derived from a similar concept. The burden was on the Plaintiff to prove that his idea had some novelty which could be protected, and the Plaintiff failed to prove the same before the Court. As the Court noticed, most elements of the Plaintiff’s ideas already existed, and were adapted from or adopted in one form or another before.
With regards to the existence of a quasi-contract, the Court held that the conversations via emails and WhatsApp Messages were inconclusive in formation of a quasi-contract. The Plaintiff and Defendant No. 1 had not prepared a proper document which could give rise to contractual obligations on part of the other Defendants or third-parties, and the Court further stated that Defendant No. 2 had not made any material investments into the venture – but had only guided the Plaintiff through the process.
While the Plaintiff claimed breach of confidentiality, the Court opined that the obligation of confidentiality could not continue indefinitely. The obligation would further depend on the nature of the information sought to keep confidential. The information related to organizing a league as per Plaintiff’s concept could not estop Defendant No. 2 from holding league matches forever, especially when Defendant No. 2, as the Court observed, was continuously involved in management of an IPL team. The Plaintiff also failed to contact Defendant No. 2 between 2018 and 2020 to proceed with the proposal, which further defeated his claims of confidentiality. The Court also relied of the decision laid down in CCE v. Alnoori Tobacco Products (2004) 6 SCC 186, and observed that while relying on the cases as it did, the Plaintiff was unable to explain the delay in approaching the Court.
The Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims and noted that although he claimed loss of proprietary information resulting in monetary loss, the damage suffered by the Plaintiff would still be insignificant compared to that of the Defendant if an interim injunction was granted against them.
The Court concluded that the balance of convenience was in favour of the Defendants, and dismissed the applications filed by the Plaintiff. It however, directed the Defendants to keep a clear record of the earnings and expenditures of the matches being held in Oman and ordered them to file the same before the Court within 1 month of the conclusion of the league matches.
Authored and contributed by Tanmaya Purohit, Intern
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