2014 Blockbusters in Copyright Infringement Suits


Dear Sinapse Readers,

The information age brought with it mounds of new perspectives and facts and copyright infringement claims. So, we bring you a quick look at all the major Intellectual Property related happenings (copyright infringement suits) of 2014. 

1. Gulaab Gang in legal trouble!

Multi-starrer movie Gulaab Gang gets into trouble with activist/leader Sampat Pal Devi of Gulabi Gang challenging the release of the movie before the Delhi High court, though Sampat Pal Devi succeeded in getting an order of stay initially but was later vacated by the division bench of the same court. 

2. Even Bhootnath can get dragged to Court!

Before the release of Bhootnath Returns, starring Amitabh Bachchan, produced by Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Ravi Chopra and co-produced by Ajay Kapoor, Sushant Supriya, writer of the short story Bhootnath had dragged the producers of the film, Bhootnath Returns, to the Delhi High Court alleging that the new film is a copy of his work, which was published in 2007 in a popular Hindi magazine, Aaj Kal. 

3. Mother Monster reigns in Copyright (infringement) dispute!

In 2011, Rebecca Francescatti, filed a lawsuit against Lady Gaga, claiming that Gaga’s hit single ‘Judas’ from the album, Born This Way, was copied from her 1999 song ‘Juda’. After three years of filing the lawsuit against Gaga, US District Judge, Marvin E. Aspen, while deciding this copyright (infringement) dispute, held that Francescatti failed to prove that the songs were sufficiently similar. In other words, the learned Judge opined that, “the Francescatti song and Gaga song are so utterly dissimilar that reasonable minds could not differ as to a lack of substantial similarity between them.” Though the near exact titles of both songs were acknowledged by the Judge, it was held that there was no sufficient evidence to give rise to a finding that the Gaga song had captured the total concept and feel of the Francescatti song ‘Juda’.

4. Dhoom 3 triumphs in Copyright (infringement) Suit!

DHOOM 3 found itself smack in the middle of the most newsworthy lawsuit just before its Sony Entertainment Television Premiere. The makers of the blockbuster film were sued for Copyright Infringement by a professional film script writer and author of a script titled “Once”, Mansoob Haider (Plaintiff). The Plaintiff claimed that the third of the series in the Dhoom franchise story is about bank robberies and that it infringed the copyright on his script, Once, which is a murder themed series. Although the Plaintiff only sought that his name be included in the credits of the title of the film in the main suit, he recently moved a notice of motion/interim application praying for injunction to restrain the Defendants. The Hon’ble Judge held that the Plaintiff failed on all three counts and held that the Plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case for the grant of interim relief. The two works were entirely different, each original in its own way and therefore held that Dhoom 3 was not and could not possibly be a copy of the Plaintiff’s work, Once. Mere use of certain well established and commonly used motifs, themes or elements or even perhaps the co-incidental placing of these in a certain juxtaposition in both works, did not give the Plaintiff the right against the rival work. To Discourage persons from “taking their chances” in making frivolous (copyright infringement) claims of this kind, the Plaintiff was fined a token amount of INR 1.

5. YouTube star sued for Copyright Infringement!

YouTube fashion celebrity Michelle Phan was sued by Electronic Dance Music Labels, Ultra Records and Ultra International Music Publishing (Plaintiffs), alleging that beauty blogger’s videos infringe their copyrights in nearly 50 cases. The Plaintiffs contended that Phan profited from the use of their artists’ tracks and compilations. Despite being informed that she did not have a licence, Phan continued to willfully infringe in blatant disregard of the Plaintiffs’ rights of ownership. Plaintiffs sought an injunction to stop Phan’s use of the music and either maximum statutory damages of $150,000 for each infringed work or unspecified damages yet to be determined. 

6. Lionsgate granted TRO against Expendables-3 Pirates/Infringers

Three weeks prior to its scheduled release, DVD quality print of Sylvester Stallone’s III edition of action series – The Expendables, was leaked online, uprooting expectations of distribution giant, Lionsgate. The pirated movie appeared to have been ripped off from a screening DVD. Nearly two weeks after the pirated copy of the film was leaked online, Lionsgate, the distributors of the film, was granted a Temporary Restraining Order against several torrent sites hosting the pirated film. The Order restricted people associated with the torrent sites from infringing Lionsgate copyrights or participating in any activity that would promote such infringement including hosting, linking to, distributing, reproducing, performing, selling, offering for sale, making available for download, streaming or making any other use of the pirated copy of the film. Further, the Order even commands all financial organizations including banks, loan associations, payment processors etc., funding the Defendants, to immediately cease such transfer of funds on reception of the Order. 

7. Lindsay Lohan Sues ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Makers

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. and Rockstar Games, the makers of the video game Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV), were sued by Lindsay Lohan for wrongful use of her likeness and persona by the game company in the video game Grand Theft Auto V. According to Lohan a character named “Lacey Jonas” in the game was based on her persona. She had further cited various references to her star turn in Mean Girls, paparazzi chases and the West Hollywood hotel where she once lived. According to Lohan, character Lacey Jonas in the game is an unauthorized commercial use of her image, thus violating her rights under the New York right of publicity law. New York Civil Rights Law §§50-51, prevents the use of a “name, portrait, picture or voice…within [the state of New York] for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without … [prior] written consent].” 

8. High-profile Privacy Hacking: Failure of Digital Copyright Protection?

2014 saw the largest blatant violation of privacy scandal which includes a high-profile hack of dozens of female actresses’, models’ and athletes’ intimate photos from their Apple accounts and being posted online.

9. Eminem loses himself in Copyright Infringement suit against NZ’s National Party

Rapper/musician, Eminem’s, Detroit-based publishing company, Eight Mile filed (copyright infringement) proceedings in the High Court at Wellington against a New Zealand political party, the National Party, alleging that they used music from Eminem’s hit song, Lose Yourself, in a Political ad Campaign for current Prime Minister, John Key. The (copyright infringement) allegation was that John Key and his Party used said Grammy and Academy award-winning song in their Political campaign without Eminem’s permission.

10. James Cameron wins Avatar Copyright (infringement) Lawsuit

A New York City Judge dismissed the (copyright infringement) suit by artist Roger Dean against James Cameron. British artist William Roger Dean known for his album art featuring fantasy landscapes created for rock bands such as Yes, Uriah Heep, and Asia accused Cameron of copying fourteen original pieces of artwork created and owned by him, including the fictional planet of Pandora. Dean singled out his painting Floating Islands as the inspiration for Avatar‘s Hallelujah Mountains and pointed to his other paintings of naturally-occurring stone arches and flying creatures as further evidence of Copyright Infringement. The (copyright infringement) Complaint asked for US$ 50 million in damages, alleging that “the similarities of each such work are substantial, continuing, and direct so as to rule out any accidental copying or similarity in scenes common to the genre”. Further, he also claimed that, “the works are indisputably similar insofar as they present the natural world in a fantastical way by depicting airborne land masses”. 

11. Dust finally settles in the Marvel-Jack Kirby Case

Disney owned Marvel managed to level out one of the major bumps that threatened to cause an obstruction in its otherwise smooth journey, in comics, films and other multi-million dollar projects. Jack Kirby, popularly called the King of Comics, much adored by comic fans all over for his participation in the creation of characters such as the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, Spider Man, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, Ant Man, Nick Fury, The Rawhide Kid. Due to Marvel’s status as “author” under the work-for-hire doctrine, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York held in favor of Marvel in July, 2011, that the termination notices by the Kirby Heirs were of no force and effect as Kirby’s works were only works of hire. This decision was later affirmed by United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in August, 2013. The Kirby Heirs filed for (copyright infringement) review before the US Supreme Court on March 21, 2014. However, the Heirs have now requested to dismiss the (copyright infringement) petition, following the amicable settlement reached between Marvel and the Kirby Heirs on September 26, 2014. 

12. Sherlock Holmes’ copyright (mis)adventures land him in the Public Domain

On November 3, 2014, the US Supreme Court made it clear that Sherlock Holmes was no longer the estate’s monopoly, but belonged to the world. In July, 2014, Justice Elena Kagan had dismissed the Emergency Petition filed by the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. to block publication of a new collection of stories based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle’s heirs claim that “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were not static but dynamic literary characters who changed and developed throughout the Sherlock Holmes canon”. The Doyle heirs have been successfully guarding all literary, merchandising and advertising rights of his works. Anyone wanting to use Sherlock or his friend Dr. Watson had to typically pay the estate a license fee. 

13. Rajini’s Lingaa clears legal hurdles; All set for blockbuster release on his birthday!

Lingaa, film starring superstar Rajinikanth, was accused of plagiarism of aspiring film-maker K R Ravi Rathinam’s yet-to-be-released Tamil film, “Mullai Vaanam 999”. Consequently, Ravi Rathinam filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court. Justice M Venugopal of the Madras High Court, dismissed the writ petition and held that the matter in question was a “private dispute” that could be solved only by initiating civil or criminal proceedings and not by invoking the writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. 

Image: from here (governed by Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 3.0)