In this post, we bring to you Important Copyright Cases decided by Indian Courts in the year 2021
Krishna Kishore Singh vs. Sarla A. Saraogi & Ors.
In this case, the Delhi High Court refused to grant an interim injunction against publication and release of films purportedly related to Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) as the plaintiff, SSR’s father failed to make out a prima facie case, and because irreparable harm and balance of convenience were in favour of the defendants. The plaintiff in the case argued that films and series such as ‘NYAY The Justice,’ ‘Suicide or Murder,’ and ‘Shashank,’ must be injuncted and restrained from being released, published and communicated to the public. The plaintiff filed the case on several grounds including violation of publicity rights and privacy rights, right to fair trial, defamation, and violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.
After reviewing the facts and relevant cases, the Court came to the conclusion that the plaintiff failed to make out a valid case for violation of celebrity or publicity rights of SSR or his family members because the plaintiff was not aware of the content of the films, the defendants were not using SSR’s image, likeness or name, and because the films had appropriate disclaimers. It also pointed out that celebrity rights may not subsist after the death of the celebrity, and that facts that form part of the public record may be used by the defendants without liability. About defamation, the Court stated that a case of defamation is merely speculative without access to the defamatory content.
The Court also pointed out that no violation of the right to fair trial may be contemplated because of publication in news or by way of films. It went on to note that freedom of expression prevails over Article 21 for information that forms part of the public record. While denying the injunction, it asked the defendants to render accounts as any damage may be compensated by way of damages.
Citation: Krishna Kishore Singh vs. Sarla A. Saraogi & Ors., High Court of Delhi, CS(COMM) 187/2021 – 10.06.2021 – https://indiankanoon.org/doc/152020280/
Dassault System Solidworks Corporation & Anr. vs. Spartan Engineering Industries Pvt. Ltd. Anr.
In this case, the Delhi High Court has dealt with the issue of copyright infringement of software. Plaintiff no.1 is a French company which has developed a software called ‘Solidworks’. This software facilitates modelling and development of products in a three-dimensional environment. Plaintiff no.2 is a sister concern established by Plaintiff no.1 to manage all its affairs with respect to ‘Solidworks’ in India.
Plaintiff no.1 and Plaintiff no.2 (“Plaintiffs”), state that the software was developed by their employees as work for hire, and hence the copyright therein belongs to the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs claim that the software program and its instruction manuals are literary work under the Copyright Act, 1957 (Act) and is entitled to copyright protection. The software was first published in the United States of America (US) and is entitled to protection in India under Section 40 of the Copyright Act as India and the US are members of the Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention and the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS Agreement.
The Plaintiffs allege that in May 2018, the Plaintiffs received information regarding the commercial use of pirated and unauthorised versions of the ‘Solidworks’ software program by the Defendants, without paying the required license fee. The Plaintiffs further asserted that such unauthorized use of the software had increased since August, 2020 and all efforts to reach an amicable resolution were futile, as the Defendants were denying infringement.
Following this, the Plaintiffs approached the Court seeking an injunction, as use of any pirated or unauthorised copy of the Plaintiffs’ software program would amount to copyright infringement under Section 51 of the Copyright Act. The Plaintiffs also relied on Section 63B of the Act, which makes it a criminal offence to knowingly use a pirated computer program. Further, the Plaintiffs asserted that, there has also been a contractual infringement and intellectual property infringement, due to the violation of the End User License Agreement by the Defendants.
While issuing the order, the court remarked that, “Software infringement is a serious issue, and deserves to be nipped in the bud”. The Court granted the Plaintiffs an ad interim ex-parte injunction, restraining the Defendants from using, reproducing and distributing any pirated or unlicensed or unauthorized software programs owned by the Plaintiffs and also from formatting their computer systems and/or erasing any data, pertaining to assisting others to infringe the Plaintiffs’ copyright.
Citation: Dassault System Solidworks Corporation & Anr. vs. Spartan Engineering Industries Pvt. Ltd. Anr., High Court of Delhi, CS(COMM) 34/2021 – 28.01.2021 https://www.bananaip.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Dassault-Systemes-Solidworks.pdf
Mr. John Hart Jr. & Anr. vs. Mr. Mukul Deora & Ors.
In this case, Plaintiff No. 1 claims to be vested with the exclusive copyright to make a movie adaptation of the book “The White Tiger” authored by Mr. Aravind Adiga by virtue of a Literary Option/Purchase Agreement dated 4th March, 2009. Plaintiff no.1 and Plaintiff no.2 (“Plaintiffs”), have approached the Court at the eleventh hour to seek an injunction restricting the release of the film “The White Tiger” (‘Film’) produced by Defendant No. 1 to be released on the streaming platform, Netflix. The Plaintiffs assert that when it came to their knowledge that Netflix was in the process of making and releasing the film, a cease-and-desist notice dated 4th October, 2019, was sent by Plaintiff No. 2 to Defendant No. 1. Further, the Plaintiffs stated that allowing the release of the film would result in irreparable injury, as the Plaintiffs planned to release the film in Hollywood. The Plaintiffs also attempted to justify the delay in approaching the Court by stating that the delay was unavoidable as the Plaintiffs were unaware of the fact that Defendants were shooting the film during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The court opined that no case exists for grant of any interlocutory injunction and the case constitutes a misuse of the judicial process. The court held that, “The Plaintiffs were aware of the possibility of the film being released on the Netflix platform at least from 4th October, 2019. There is not a scintilla of material produced on record to justify the Plaintiffs approaching this court less than 24 hours prior to the release of the subject film, seeking stay thereof.” The court relies on several precedents to elucidate that a Plaintiff who approaches the court at the eleventh hour, seeking an interlocutory injunction against the release of a cinematographic film, is dis entitled to any such relief. A delay in approaching the Court for an equitable relief is always fatal.
The Delhi High Court held that the balance of convenience favours the Defendants and by granting an injunction at the eleventh hour, greater irreparable loss and injury would be caused. The Plaintiffs stand dis entitled from seeking any interlocutory injunction against the release of the film on the ground of unconscionable delay in approaching the court. The court nevertheless directed the defendants to keep detailed accounts of the earnings made from the film so that, if the Plaintiffs were to succeed in the future, the account details would facilitate in awarding damages or monetary compensation.
Citation: Mr. John Hart Jr. & Anr. vs. Mr. Mukul Deora & Ors, High Court of Delhi, CS (Comm) 38/2021 – 21.01.2021 – https://www.bananaip.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/John-Hart-Jr.pdf
Muthoot Finance Limited vs. Shalini Kalra & Ors.
In this case, the Plaintiff, Muthoot Finance Limited, a non-banking financial institution, provided business and personal loans against the deposit of gold jewellery. As a part of this business the Plaintiff had to maintain proprietary and confidential information related to its vast customer base in the form of a database which in turn constituted a ‘literary work’ as under Section 2(o) of the Copyright Act, 1957 and it also amounted to trade secrets of Plaintiff which ought not be disclosed to any third party. The Defendants no. 1 to 4 herein were the former employees of the Plaintiff. At the time of joining the employment, each of them had duly signed the non-disclosure undertaking as provided in the appointment letter along with a Declaration of fidelity. The main allegation in the plaint was that the Defendant No. 1 & 4, during the course of their employment, had unauthorizedly and illegally downloaded, extracted, copied and later on transmitted the confidential information of the Plaintiff’s customers to Defendant No 2 & 3 along with employees of Defendant No.5, a company engaged in similar services as that of the Plaintiff. Thus, the Plaintiff’s customer base started drifting towards the Defendant No.5. Eventually Defendant 1 & 3 on being terminated by the Plaintiff, in turn joined the employment under Defendant 5. Aggrieved by this, the Plaintiff filed a criminal complaint against Defendant No. 1 to 5 with the Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, New Delhi. However, there were similar instances of disclosure of confidential information at various other branches of the Plaintiff which in turn resulted in a loss of around 9 crore rupees to the Plaintiff. Thus, the Plaintiff again lodged an FIR at PS Special Offences and Cyber Crime under the relevant sections of IPC and IT Act. The plaint herein also averred that Defendant No.5 was poaching the Plaintiff’s employees and customers with the aid of the information illegally obtained by the Defendants.
Hence the Plaintiff moved this court seeking a decree of permanent injunction thereby restraining the Defendants and any other person acting on behalf of/through them from using/disclosing any confidential information pertaining to the Plaintiff, using/infringing any copyright or other IP rights belonging to the Plaintiff, from directly or indirectly luring/canvassing any of the Plaintiff’s customers, inducing any of the Plaintiff’s employees to quit employment or provoke them to join the Defendant No.5 or any of its businesses, and to give up all the said confidential information/trade secrets in hand. The Plaintiff also sought damages of Rs.2,00,01,000/- payable to the Plaintiff jointly and severally by Defendants 1 to 5 together with an interest of 18% p.a. till the date of payment. The Court herein issued summons to the Defendants and gave them an opportunity to file a written statement (if any). And pertaining to the IA filed by the Plaintiff, the court ordered an interim injunction restraining the Defendants from disclosing or using any confidential information, trade secrets or any other information, pertaining to the business and operations of the Plaintiff Company, and from using proprietary content of any nature, including copyright and other intellectual property rights of the Plaintiff Company or doing any acts or deeds that will infringe/dilute the Plaintiff Company’s intellectual property rights.
Citation: Muthoot Finance Limited vs Shalini Kalra & Ors, Decided by Delhi High Court – Orders on 13th September, 2021, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/22108976/
Cristina Maiorescu vs. M/S Nishangi Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. and Ors.
The Plaintiff, a professional photographer filed a suit against the Defendants seeking direction from the Bangalore District Court for payment of a sum of Rs.1,56,025/- towards an invoice for services provided by her, with interest at the rate of 12% per annum. The Plaintiff entered an agreement with the Defendants for providing photography services with respect to products to be sold by the Defendant No.1, a company operating a chain of eateries/beverage stations under the name and style ‘Frootality’ in Hyderabad and Bangalore. As per the agreement, a sum of Rs.2,23,000/- was to be paid by the Defendants to the Plaintiff, who had to provide 62 photographs in two phases. Further, in pursuance of the agreement, the Defendant No.1 paid a sum of Rs.1,00,000/- to the Plaintiff as advance.
It was alleged by the Plaintiff that after completion of her assignment, she raised an invoice and Defendants neither raised any objections regarding the completion of the assignment nor made the payment. It was also the case of the Plaintiff that the Defendants No.1 and 2 utilized various services of the Plaintiff outside the scope of photography assignment and she also permitted the Defendant No.3 to reside with her. The Plaintiff alleged that she incurred an expense to the tune of Rs. 3,85,000/- in fulfilling these and that the Defendants blatantly violated her intellectual property rights.
The Court held that owing to the facts and circumstances of the case, the burden was on the Plaintiff to prove that she provided photography services to the Defendant and that the Defendants were liable to pay damages and compensation for the additional services rendered by the Plaintiff and for unlawful use of photographs clicked by her. The Plaintiff placed on record evidence which included a copy of email communications between Plaintiff and Defendants, a copy of the invoice, a C.D. containing photographs, screenshots of websites of defendants, and a copy of the notice. The Court, after examining the evidence, concluded that the Plaintiff successfully established that she provided the services to the defendant, who agreed to pay the amount that was claimed by her and the interest amount was also held to be appropriate. However, with regards to the additional services and unlawful use of photographs, except the issuance of notice no other evidence was available. The Court held that in absence of any cogent material, Plaintiff was not entitled for damages and compensation as claimed in the plaint.
Citation: Cristina Maiorescu vs M/S Nishangi Enterprises Pvt. Ltd, on 24 September, 2021, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/139516246/
Saregama India Limited vs. Next Radio Limited & Ors.
The Apex Court, in the instant case, set aside an interim order passed by the Madras High Court, which held that copyrighted material cannot be broadcasted without prior notice as per Rule 29(4) of the Copyright Rules, 2013. The High Court had modified specific provisions of the Rule and applied it to the broadcasters, by opining that the Rule lacked flexibility and created difficulties for the broadcasters. The mandate to furnish the particulars in the notice was revised to fifteen days as against 24 hours. Moreover, the High Court rendered the second proviso under the Rule regarding prior notice as a mere routine procedure instead of an exception loosening the grips on broadcasters. The Petitioner pointed out that this modification would be applicable pan-India and create disparity regarding the Rule. Various landmark cases were relied on by the Petitioner in establishing the settled principle of law, which prohibited the judiciary from modifying or rewriting the words in a Statute while interpreting the law. While setting aside the interim order, the Supreme Court opined that the Courts were not empowered to revise or rewrite the provisions of a Statute by way of judicial review. Emphasis was laid on the fact that the powers to make and rewrite laws vested with the Legislature. Furthermore, the Court did not deliberate on the merits of the respondent’s submission concerning the validity of Rule 29(4).
Citation: Saregama India Limited v. Next Radio Limited & Ors., decided by the Supreme Court on 27th September, 2021, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/11609677/
Narendra Hirawat And Co. vs. Aftab Music Industries & Anr.
Plaintiff Narendra Hirawat and Co. filed a suit against the Defendants for violating consent terms and breaching film rights accorded to the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs claimed that despite the existence of an agreement which granted the Plaintiffs perpetual rights over certain movies produced by the Defendants, the latter uploaded it on their YouTube Channel. The Plaintiffs argued that the Defendants accepted the Plaintiffs’ right over the film in perpetuity by relying on the Consent Terms mentioned in a suit filed in 2012. The Defendants countered this by alleging that they had only granted ‘Internet Rights’ and not ‘YouTube Rights’ to the Plaintiffs. However, the High Court of Bombay rendered the Defendants’ arguments ‘non-sensical’ by holding that ‘YouTube Rights’ fall within the ambit of ‘Internet Rights’ and the two cannot be dealt with separately. The Court added that YouTube could not function without the existence of the Internet hence denying the standalone ‘YouTube Rights’ claimed by the Defendants.
The Court ordered the Defendants to stop infringing the rights accorded to the Plaintiffs, and to cease storing or making copies of the films on any platform. The Court explicitly forbade the Defendants from representing their non-existent right over the films to any third party. Although the Court opined that exemplary and punitive costs are to be imposed along with issuing a contempt notice to the Defendants for having intentionally breached the agreement, no such imposition or issuance of notice were ordered. The Court denied the Defendants their right to reply by stating that the Defendants were dishonest and failed to adhere to the commitments made to the Court.
Citation: Narendra Hirawat and Co. vs Aftab Music Industries & Anr. on 28th September, 2021, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/narendra-hirawat-co-v-aftab-music-industries-anr-401683.pdf
Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran vs. S. Vijayaraghavan & Anr.
The Plaintiff, Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran, wife of late Pulavar Keeran, a famous religious Hindu preacher and historian, sought a declaration from the Madras High Court that she was the rightful owner of the copyright of her husband’s works. She also filed for an injunction against the Defendants, asking them to surrender all master tapes containing original recordings of the speeches, lectures and discourses and in any other form like cassettes or CDs. Pulavar Keeran had met Defendant No. 1., S. Vijayaraghavan, who was the proprietor of Vani Recording Co., a small audio cassette shop in 1987, and decided to record his concerts in the form of 38 cassettes between 1987 and 1990 and sell them so they could be listened to at people’s convenience. He allowed Defendant No. 1 to promote the cassettes in exchange for incurring the expenses involved in making the recordings. Defendant No. 1 also sold certain cassettes through a dealer, along with a temporary mutually beneficial agreement based on the market and the number of copies sold.
The Plaintiff claimed that her husband did permit any further reproduction after a formal agreement laying down the profit-sharing ratio was in place. He did not part with the copyright, and was not paid by Defendant No. 1 for his recordings. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1990, so he only completed recording 12 of his works. The Plaintiff entrusted the master tapes with Defendant No. 1 based on his assurance that he would keep it safe and maintain them well in his shop, but intended to retain the copyright of her husband’s works. S. Vijayaraghavan commercially exploited the recorded works, against the Plaintiff’s wishes, while she was abroad. The Plaintiff’s counsel stated that as per Section 2(d) and Section 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957, the Plaintiff would be the rightful copyright owner as she was a legal heir, and Defendant No. 1 did not assist in the capacity of a producer.
The counsel for the Defendants claimed that the sound recordings were the work of a producer, which in this case was Defendant No. 1. They also claimed that the present suit was filed back in 2004, and was thus barred by limitation as it was 13 years after the preacher’s death in 1990. The Court stated that this argument did not hold water, because the copyright was valid till 1/1/1991, i.e. 60 years from beginning of the next calendar year after the death of Pulavar Keeran. The Court analysed Section 2(d), 13, 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957 and Section 2 of the Berne Convention. The Court held that the copyright holder would be the Plaintiff, and granted a permanent injunction against the Defendants, restraining them from using, selling, distributing, broadcasting as a whole or exploiting the literary works in isolation (transcript of speeches) through any media.
Citation: Mrs. Sellappapa Keeran vs S. Vijayaraghavan & Anr., Decided by The Madras High Court on 1st September, 2021, available: at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1932971/
Smt. Shumita Deb v. Saregama India Ltd. and Anr.
Smt. Shumita Deb, the Plaintiff, daughter of late singer, Probodh Chandra Dey, popularly known as Manna Dey filed a suit against Saregama India Ltd. (Defendant No. 1) and Sony DADC Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd. (Defendant No. 2) seeking perpetual and mandatory injunction, and damages for infringement of copyright of 14 songs sung by her father. The Plaintiff claimed that Manna Dey held copyright over the 14 songs in the music album, which the Defendant No. 1 infringed by wrongfully reproducing, manufacturing, marketing and distributing as the CD album with the infringing songs.
The Defendant No. 1 proved before the Court that Manna Dey only sang the 14 songs, out of which he composed 2 songs. Manna Dey assigned the rights to those 2 songs to the Defendant No. 1 by an agreement to that effect and received the royalties. Out of 14, 4 songs were part of a cinematographic film, making the producer the copyright owner. The Defendant No. 2 manufactured and distributed the CD albums through an exclusive licensing agreement between the Defendants, for songs/musical works that were owned by Defendant No. 1.
The Court concluded that Manna Dey was not the author of the songs, being the singer, by virtue of S.2(d)(ii) of the Copyright Act. The rights to these songs lay with the Defendants, as they owned the original plate from which the record was made. The Court denied the claim of distortion of songs u/S. 57, as well as rejected any claims to damages and dismissed the suit.
Citation: Smt. Shumita Deb v. Saregama India Ltd., decided on 20th December 2021, in the Court of City Civil Judge, Bengaluru City, available here, last visited on 4 January, 2022.
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