Ideas, Concepts, Scripts & Stories – Protecting Ideas in the Entertainment Industry Part V
Last week, we discussed the Urmi Juvekar Chiang case. Today we will look at the case of (1) Mr. Anil Gupta and (2) Another. vs. (1) Mr. Kunal Dasgupta and (2) Others – A landmark case, indeed, in the area of protecting ideas and concepts. This case elucidates the dos and don’ts of Idea Protection and Breach of Confidence in the Entertainment Industry.
Plaintiff No. 1 – a Media Consultant
Defendant No. 2 – a Television Production House
It is the case of the Plaintiff that he conceived the idea of producing a reality television programme containing the process of matchmaking to the point of actual spouse selection in which real everyday ordinary people would participate before a Television audience. The Plaintiff had devised a novel concept for a TV show in which it would be the prerogative of a woman to select a groom from a variety of suitors. They had even decided to name the concept ‘Swayamvar’, knowing well that a large number of people would associate the name with the idea of a woman selecting a groom in a public forum and that it would create the necessary instantaneous recall and recognition of the mythological Swayamvar, giving the programme a head-start.
The aforesaid concept titled ‘Swayamvar’ was disclosed in early 1997 by the Plaintiff to his wife and one Mr. K Chandrasehkar. The Plaintiff then applied for registration after developing the concept as a piece of literary work under the Copyright Act. The work was registered and a certificate was duly issued in favor of the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff put forth that in May/June of 1998, they spoke to Defendant No. 1 and gave a 1-page concept note of ‘Swayamvar’ to the Defendant, who gave an enthusiastic response to the idea. Defendant No. 1 further asked the Plaintiff to give a detailed presentation. Further, the Plaintiff contended that the concept note given by the Plaintiff to the Defendant at said meeting was a disclosure in utmost confidence which is the usual practice in the industry.
The second meeting took place in Defendant No. 1’s office with the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff then described the concept of Swayamvar. It has been averred in the Plaint that the Plaintiff informed the Defendant that he had registered his concept and the same was copyrighted. On the same day, the Plaintiff further elaborated the programme structure and format, divided into segments for easy implementation.
It is further the case of the Plaintiff that another meeting was fixed at the Defendants’ office. In said meeting, the Plaintiff handed over to the Defendant, a letter which contained a proposal for five programmes including ‘Swayamvar’. This letter also accompanied a brief concept note containing the essential details and proposed format of ‘Swayamvar’. After said meeting, the Defendants asked the Plaintiff to give a detailed presentation at the earliest.
Another meeting was held between the Defendants and the wife and son of the Plaintiff, where a PowerPoint Presentation was given to the large team of executive of the Defendants. The printed version of the presentation and an internal discussion document which had been prepared by the Plaintiff’s said representatives, was also handed to the Defendants after the presentation.
Subsequently, the Plaintiff saw an article titled ‘Camera, Lights, Shehnai! SONY TV to play Matchmaker’. Said article informed that Defendant No. 2 was due to launch a big budget reality TV show which would provide a platform for matchmaking. The report indicated that it would be like a Swayamvar or a marriage bureau on television.
The Plaintiff presented that this article and others appearing subsequently in newspapers as well as the internet, uncannily replicated the information confidentially disclosed by him to the Defendants during their meetings and presentations. When he learned that Defendant No. 2 was going to launch a reality TV show ‘Shubh Vivah’, he wrote a letter to the Defendant to clarify any misconception of the source of the idea and then a legal notice was sent. The Defendant replied to said legal notice stating that what they were making was not a copy of Swayamvar and also took the stand that they had made the Plaintiff aware in their meetings that the Defendants were in the process of producing a programme based on the same theme.
Now clearly miffed, the Plaintiff contended that a copyright was held by him for a creative, unique and novel reality TV programme that conducts real life matchmaking by giving certain women the opportunity, with mediation by an anchor person, to choose a husband of their choice from a chosen few suitors, in the presence of parents, in the studio. The Plaintiff sought copyright protection in the developed production of his concept and the format of his unique matchmaking show, which was then brought to the attention of the Defendants through various meetings held between them.
The Plaintiff contended that Copyright Infringement was afoot, in the guise of the Defendants taking a concept developed by the Plaintiffs and subsequently reproducing the same in the format of a TV show proposed by the Plaintiff, only titled differently as Shubh Vivah. Further, when the Plaintiff had submitted its programme proposal for consideration, the same was done on the understanding that the broadcaster will either accept it or reject it. Therefore, the Defendants, by using said information imparted to it in strict confidence by the Plaintiff, breached the confidence reposed in them by the Plaintiff. Plaintiff claimed interim relief on two grounds:
- Breach of Confidence
- Permissibility of registration of idea developed in a concept
After considering the contentions of both parties, the Court held that when a concept note as well as presentations were admitted to have been received by the Defendants, it cannot be said that they were under no obligation to maintain confidence. The argument of the Defendants that once the concept was registered under the Copyright Act the same came under public domain, cannot be sustained in the eyes of the law. As a matter of fact, when a concept is registered, the same is protected from the public domain. Therefore, the Defendants could not be permitted to launch its TV programme if the same was based on the concept of Swayamvar, conceived by the Plaintiff. The Court further opined that it would have been easier for this Court if the salient features of Shubh Vivah had been disclosed by the Defendants before this Court.
What had been disclosed before this Court by the Defendants was that they were not providing a platform to young woman to choose a spouse from a pool of potential suitors, there was no involvement of parents either of the girls or of the suitors, there was also no a reward after the courtship concluded nor were there gifts given to the espoused couple. What is important to note is that Shubh Vivah is based on the thrill of matchmaking. The concept of spouse selection in any form as a reality TV show could not be permitted as that had been conceived by the Plaintiff at the first instance. To depict matchmaking in the form of a reality TV show or spouse selection, was the theme of the concept. How it is done, who plays the anchor person, whether gifts were given or not, may be the various elements which may differ but if Shubh Vivah was based on the matchmaking process to be televised as a real life drama, the Defendants could not reap the fruits of labour put in by the Plaintiff. The Courts, satisfied that the Plaintiff had prima facie proved that the Defendants were aware of the concept of Swayamvar, and hence had infringed his copyright, granted the injunction.
The case dealt with permissibility of registration of an idea developed in a concept. It was held that the idea per se had no copyright, but in case the same was developed into a concept fledged with adequate details, the same could be registered under the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957 – Further, in case the confidential information was used with certain variations, the same would amount to violation of copyright under Section 51 and 55 of the Act.
The case discussed the scope of injunction to restrain the Breach of Confidence of the theme, concept or scripts under Section 51 and 55 of the Copyright Act, 1957. It was held that interlocutory injunction could be issued to restrain the Breach of Confidence, else the same could be catastrophic for the television industry.