Key Judgments on Movie Rights Assignments from Madras High Court | Case Notes

In the world of cinema, especially in a country as diverse and film-centric as India, the legal intricacies surrounding movie rights play a significant role in the industry’s functioning. From satellite rights to digital rights, the manner in which these rights are assigned or transferred often leads to disputes, necessitating clarity from the judiciary. Here at BananaIP Counsels, we bring to you a collection of recent judgments from the Madras High Court that shed light on such complexities, specifically in the context of Tamil cinema. These cases not only inform us about the evolving stance of the court on these issues but also provide clarity to stakeholders in the industry.

Assignment of Satellite Rights of the Movie Ayalan to Sun TV is valid, says Madras High Court.

In a case filed by a film financier, Divya Jain, the Madras High Court held that the prior assignment agreement of the film Ayalan supersedes the subsequent finance agreement pledging satellite television rights. The financier in the case argued that non-payment of full consideration with respect to the assignment deed makes the assignment invalid, and the finance agreement valid, which the Court rejected. The Court stated that unpaid consideration can be recovered by the assignor, but that does not negate the validity of the assignment.

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The first Assignment of the Tamil Movie NEARUPOO prevails over a subsequent assignment, says Madras High Court.

The Madras High Court recently held that the first assignment of the Tamil feature film NEARUPOO prevails over a subsequent transfer of negative rights over the film. In this case, Royal Talkies transferred the international theatrical, television, and home video rights over the film to Sanjay Wadhwa for consideration, and later transferred the copyrights in the film to SSS Films. The Court stated that owing to the prior assignment, the second transfer will not include the rights assigned earlier, and granted a permanent injunction restraining SSS Films from exploiting the film rights that were assigned earlier.

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Bharathi Raja’s assignment of 19 films is valid, and it was not under intoxication, says Madras High Court.

The Madras High Court recently decided a case in favour of Ghanshyam, the assignee of 19 films of Bharathi Raja. The Court stated that the assignment was validly made and that it was not made under intoxication as claimed by Bharathi Raja. It also stated that the consideration was valid and that the consideration also includes royalty. It further held that the term of copyright mentioned in the agreement makes the assignment valid until the copyright term subsists.

Bharathi Raja had blocked Ghanshyam from exploiting the assigned films on OTT platforms, following which this case was filed.

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Veeram Movie’s Television and Digital Rights belong to United India, and not Sun, says Madras High Court.

Television and Digital Rights transfers are often contested because of ambiguity in agreements transferring rights, and some of them land in Court. Recently, the Madras High Court was asked to decide who owns the Satellite, DTH, Digital, and other rights over the movie Veeram starring Ajith and Tamannah. The case went to Court because the producer, Vijaya Productions, had signed two assignment agreements with respect to the same rights. One was signed with United India Exporters for 7 crores, and another with Sun TV for 13 crores.

After reviewing the agreements and their clauses, the Madras High Court concluded that United India Exporters being the prior assignee in 2012, as opposed to Sun TV, whose assignment was in 2013, holds the Satellite, DTH, and other rights in Veeram. It, therefore, restrained Sun TV from exploiting those rights. The Court also stated that Sun TV is entitled to get a refund of the assignment fee paid by it to Vijaya Productions.

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Oral assignment of the Tamil movie Paramapadham Vilayattu’s dubbing rights is not valid, says Madras High Court.

The Madras High Court recently ruled that claims relating to the assignment of the Tamil movie Paramapadham Vilayattu based on payment of Rs. 15 Lakhs without a written assignment agreement are not valid. The plaintiff in the case sought a declaratory judgment of copyright ownership with respect to the Hindi dubbing rights of Paramapadham Vilayattu based on an oral agreement. The Court stated that oral assignments are not valid but granted restitution of the amount paid with 18 percent interest to the plaintiff.

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It’s evident from these recent judgments that the Madras High Court places a significant emphasis on clarity, legitimacy, and the chronological order of agreements in determining the validity of movie rights assignments. These decisions reinforce the importance of well-drafted, explicit agreements in the film industry. They also underline the significance of understanding the legal nuances before entering into any assignment or transfer of rights. As the world of cinema continues to expand and evolve, BananaIP Counsels remains committed to keeping you abreast of these legal developments to ensure clarity and compliance.