Indian Copyright Orders and Judgments – 2020
Ashutosh Dubey Netflix Inc. and Ors., Delhi High Court, I.A. 3754/2020 in CS(OS) 120/2020
This lawsuit primarily deals with the issue of defamation, allegedly caused due to certain derogatory remarks made by the protagonist in a web-series known as “Hasmukh”. The plaintiff in this matter is a lawyer by profession and the defendants include a well-known digital streaming platform, which is streaming the web-series, Hasmukh. The plaintiff, while watching Hasmukh, came across a dialogue in episode 4 of season 1, which in his opinion was allegedly derogatory to the legal profession. Following this, the plaintiff filed a suit, “seeking a decree of permanent injunction against the defendants further airing or streaming of the episodes of Web-Series (TV show) “Hasmukh” particularly Episode 4 of Season 1.” The web-series, is about an aspiring stand-up comedian, who can only perform well on stage, if prior to his performance, he commits a murder. But, it is important that his victim, must either be corrupt or an extremely ruthless person, only then will Hasmukh, commit the murder. In the scenes preceding the impugned dialogue, Hasmukh is being duped and harassed by a corrupt lawyer in Mumbai, which compels him to murder the lawyer and then proceed to make certain statements about lawyers and the legal profession, in his stand-up comic act, while directly making references to lawyers in Mumbai. The impugned dialogue when translated in English is as follows, “This is the first city I have seen where even the thieves are rich. But out here, they’re called lawyers. Your lawyers are the biggest scoundrels and thieves. These so-called upholders of law will never be brought to justice because they rape you with their pen. People say the law is blind. But I say the law is dirty because every lawyer carries a little stick in his hand.”
The plaintiff took offence to this dialogue, as it allegedly attacks the entire legal community and is therefore defamatory in nature. The counsels for the defendant stated that, lawyers cannot be defamed as a class of persons, nor can the plaintiff be defamed by a general reference to a class, to which the plaintiff belongs. Considering that lawyers consist of a large group of individuals and that the impugned dialogue did not refer to or name a particular individual or more specifically the plaintiff, it therefore cannot be considered as defamatory in nature. The court stated that the entire theme of the show and the dialogues therein, are meant to be viewed purely as satire, and must not be construed in the literal sense, as this is a known fact with regard to jokes made by stand-up comedians.
Further, for a statement to be deemed as defamatory, even towards a group of people, it is necessary that the person making such a statement refers to an individual from that particular group or class of people. The plaintiff in this case was unable to prove that the impugned dialogue refers to the plaintiff or that it has already caused or could potentially cause some kind of serious loss or damage solely to the plaintiff’s reputation. The court opined that the balance of convenience was not in favour of the plaintiff, following which the court dismissed the plaintiff’s plea for an ad interim injunction and ruled in favour of the defendants.
A copy of the order is available here.
Super Cassettes Industries Pvt. Ltd. vs. Prime Cable Network and Anr., Delhi High Court, CS(COMM) 594/2016
The plaintiff, in this matter, is in the business of producing and marketing music cassettes, compact discs, etc., in addition to producing and distributing films. Defendant no.1 is a large provider of ground cable network services in the State of Uttarakhand and defendant no.2 is an individual working for defendant no.1. The plaintiff claims to be the owner of a large number of copyrights in music and literary works, films and sound recordings, including Hindi film songs, non-film songs, and songs in regional languages. As a part of its business activities the plaintiff grants licenses to various entities to allow them to use its copyrighted works. Such entities include FM Radio Stations, Television Broadcasters, Multi-System Operators (MSO), etc. The plaintiff has stated in this suit, that defendant no.1 operates as a MSO and has alleged that defendant no.1 has broadcasted and/or communicated the plaintiff’s copyrighted sound recordings, the underlying lyrics, musical composition and the audio – visual works, to the public through its cable network, thereby infringing the plaintiff’s copyright. After the plaintiff learned about this alleged infringement, it initially sent notices informing defendant no.1 of its infringing activities and directed defendant no.1, to acquire the necessary licenses for the content that it was broadcasting, which was owned by the plaintiff. Defendant no.1 however, did not respond to any of these notices, and continued to broadcast infringing content through its cable network. Following this, the plaintiff filed a copyright infringement suit against defendant no.1 in the Delhi High Court and in addition to this the plaintiff also conducted an investigation and presented the findings from the investigation as evidence in court. The evidence included the recordings of the infringing content being broadcasted on defendant no.1’s cable network, which substantiated the plaintiff’s claims of copyright infringement against defendant no.1.
Upon reviewing the facts of the case and the evidence presented by the plaintiff, the court decided in favour of the plaintiff and granted an order of permanent injunction. The court also ordered the defendants to pay damages to the plaintiff.
A copy of the order is available here.
M/s. Indian Record Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Vs. Agi Music Sdn Bhd, Illaiyaraja and M/s.Unisys Info Solutions Private Ltd., Madras High Court, C.S.No.296 of 2016 & O.A.No.338 of 2010
The plaintiff in this matter, is a renowned music company engaged in the production, distribution and sales of music albums in various forms. Defendant no.2 is a well known music composer, who, over the years has composed music for several South Indian films. Since this suit was contested solely by defendant no.2, defendant no.1 and defendant no.3 remain ex-parte. The subject matter of this dispute, refers to the music that defendant no.2 had composed for many films produced by the plaintiff, by virtue of which defendant no.2 claimed to be the author these musical compositions, and was in the process of selling the copyrights to defendant no.1. The plaintiff was also made aware of the same, following which it filed a copyright infringement suit against defendant no.2., since the plaintiff claimed that it had acquired the copyright and other rights subsisting in the musical compositions from the respective producers of the films, as they were the first owners of such copyright. The court validated the plaintiff’s copyright ownership claims in the musical compositions, and stated that, since the producers of the film had commissioned the musical works composed by defendant no.2, the producers are the first and rightful owners of such compositions. The court emphasised on the definition of the term ‘cinematograph film’, as defined in the Copyright Act, and stated that it is the producer who puts together several elements to make a complete film. Therefore, only a producer is legally vested with the authority to assign to third parties, the individual rights in each of these separate elements.
The Madras High Court observed that, defendant no.2 was unable to furnish the necessary evidence to support the claims of authorship and subsequent ownership over the musical compositions. The plaintiff on the other hand was able to satisfy the court, by submitting the agreements between the plaintiff and the respective producers to substantiate the claims of ownership of copyright made by the plaintiff. As a result of this, the order was decided in favour of the plaintiff, and defendant no.2’s claims were dismissed.
Link to order: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/98552858/
HT Media Limited and Ors. www.theworldnews.net and Ors., Delhi High Court, MANU/DE/0563/2020
The plaintiffs in this case are part of a media conglomerate which is also engaged in the business of publication of news articles, among other media related businesses. The multiple defendants in this suit include the infringing website which aggregates content and publishes the same from various sources and the entity managing this website (defendant nos.1 & 2), the German company hosting the infringing website (defendant no.3), the privacy service provider (defendant no.4), the erstwhile registrar of the infringing website (defendant no.5), the internet service providers (ISPs) (defendant nos.6-14), whose assistance the plaintiffs’ seek to block the concerned website. The departments of the Government of India (defendant nos.15 & 16), have also been impleaded as defendants in this suit, since they are required to issue notifications with regard to blocking of the impugned website. The plaintiffs conducted a private investigation through which it was discovered that defendant no.1 and defendant no.2 were reproducing and publishing content on the impugned website, that originally belonged to the plaintiffs, without taking the required permission or prior authorization from the plaintiffs, to allow such publication. The defendant no.1 was also using the plaintiffs’ copyright and registered trademarks on its website, due to which the plaintiffs filed a suit alleging copyright and trademark infringement, in addition to the claims of passing off, primarily by defendant no.1 & defendant no.2.
In light of the evidence presented by the plaintiffs, the Delhi High Court observed that, while the defendants in fact, do acknowledge and attribute the articles published on the impugned website, to the plaintiffs, they however, do not provide a link to permit a user to directly access the article on the plaintiffs’ own website. The plaintiffs have placed screenshots of the impugned website to demonstrate the availability of large-scale infringing content. The evidence also reflected that the impugned website had a bill payment option, which indicated that its activities were of a commercial nature, thereby violating the statutory protection granted to the plaintiffs’ intellectual property rights under the respective laws.
After reviewing the evidence presented by the plaintiffs, the court opined that since the plaintiffs were able to substantiate their claims with the evidence that they had presented and defendant nos.1 to 5 did not make any attempt to appear in court or respond in any manner to the notices sent to them, the order granted by the court would be ex-parte. In conclusion, the court decided in favour of the plaintiff by granting the permanent injunction as requested along with the damages, which were to be paid by defendant nos.1 to 5.
Link to the order : https://indiankanoon.org/doc/187541084/
Star India Pvt. Ltd. Vs. moviestrunk.com and Ors., Delhi High Court, MANU/DE/0585/2020
This suit dealt with the issue of copyright infringement by various streaming websites that continue to provide access to illegal content. In this present matter, the plaintiff, which is in the business of producing and distributing films, filed a copyright infringement suit against multiple defendants, who run different streaming websites, for illegally streaming the plaintiff’s film ‘Mission Mangal’. The plaintiff also included as defendants in the suit, those departments of the Government of India, which issue notifications with regard to blocking of the impugned websites. Prior to the release of the plaintiff’s film ‘Mission Mangal’, the plaintiff had conducted a private investigation into the defendants’ websites and submitted the findings of these investigations as evidence before the court. The plaintiff had confiscated infringing materials, including content which was made available on the defendants’ websites to download and view, without the required authorization from the plaintiff, thereby making such content illegal.
The evidence presented to the court contained screenshots of all the defendants’ websites that showed the plaintiff’s film being made available on the defendants’ websites for downloading and streaming, prior to the official release date of the film. The plaintiff also identified those internet service providers (ISPs), who were providing services to the defendants’ websites, following which the Delhi High Court ordered these ISPs to block access to the defendants’ websites and also ordered the suspension of the defendants’ domain names by the corresponding authority. Further, the court directed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to issue a notification to any website that the plaintiff notifies as illegally transmitting or broadcasting the cinematograph film ‘Mission Mangal’ in any manner.
Since the court did not receive any response from majority of the defendants, to the notices sent to them, the order was decided in favour of the plaintiff, whereby the plaintiff was granted the injunction as requested along with damages, that were deemed appropriate by the court.
Shivani Tibrewala vs. Rajat Mukherjee and Ors. (15.01.2020 – BOMHC): MANU/MH/0060/2020
This case referred to the alleged infringement of the plaintiff’s film script, by the defendant. The plaintiff, in this case, had originally produced a play, titled ‘The Laboratory’, following which the plaintiff decided to adapt the play into a film and accordingly wrote a new script for the film. Shortly after this, the defendant had released a film, titled ‘Umeed’, which also dealt with the issue of clinical trials, same as the plaintiff’s play. Based on this similarity, the plaintiff filed a copyright infringement suit against the defendant. After carefully examining the scripts of both, the plaintiff’s the adaptation of the play ‘The Laboratory’ and the defendant’s film ‘Umeed’, and subsequently watching the defendant’s film, the Bombay High Court decided in favour of the defendant. According to the court, while the underlying idea behind both the scripts was the same, in that they both dealt with clinical trials, the stories were however, narrated through completely different scenarios. The court has also noted that, the plaintiff has agreed to the differences in the script of the play and that of the plaintiff’s own film, which is inspired by the play. This shows that, there are several different ways to express an idea.
In conclusion, the court stated that, there can be no monopoly of copyright in the idea or subject of a film based on the theme /subject of clinical trial which is a part of the public domain following which, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.
A copy of the order is available here.
Giant Rocket Media And Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. vs Ms. Priyanka Ghatak And Ors., Delhi HC, CS(COMM) 736/2019
This case involved three defendants, wherein, defendant no.1 is a scriptwriter, defendant no.2 is a production house and defendant no.3, is a retired Joint Commissioner, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the author of the book “CBI Insider Speaks: Birlas to Sheila Dikshit”, from which, chapter no.7 was to be adapted by the plaintiff into a webseries. The plaintiff in this case, claimed that the defendant no.2 along with help of defendant nos. 1 and 3, had infringed upon teh plaintiff’s idea to adapt the aforementioned chapter no.7 of, into a webseries, for which the plaintiff had previously sought the rights, from defendant no.3. Chapter no.7 from the book, was based on the true story of the murder of Syed Modi, who was an eight- time national badminton champion. The court stated that the primary issue in this case was whether the chapter itself, as written by defendant no.3, fulfilled the originality of expression requirement, of the Copyright Act. As per the court’s opinion, since the story which was covered in chapter no.7, is a true story, by virtue of that, it is already a part of the public domain, due to which it may not qualify as copyrightable work.
Based on this observation, the Delhi High Court held that, since the story mentioned in chapter no.7 is not a fictional story, and is merely the narration of the crime and its prosecution, the plaintiff did not have sufficient grounds to claim exclusive rights over the contents of chapter no.7, of the book, written by defendant no.3. Each of the scripts belonging to the plaintiff and defendant no.2 respectively, narrated their own versions of this true crime story. In light of the aforementioned facts, the court concluded that, while the plaintiff did not have a prima facie case for interim relief, defendants no. 1 & 2 also did not act in a fair manner. In addition to this, the evidence provided was insufficient to show that the balance of convenience lies with the plaintiff. As a result of this, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal for an injunction against the webseries released by defendant no.2, and vacated the ex-parte ad-interim order.
Link to the order: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/62980045/
Authored and compiled by Neharika Vhatkar (Associate, BananaIP Counsels)
Updates on recent orders and judgments are brought to you jointly by the Entertainment Law and Consulting/Strategy Divisions of BananaIP Counsels, a Top IP Firm in India. If you have any questions, or need any clarifications, please write to [email protected] with the subject: Copyright Judgments
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