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A Look Back at the Developments in Copyright Laws In the year 2020

While the world grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect, the Indian judicial setup kept steady with courts functioning virtually and providing relief in urgent matters, although a few matters were adjourned and filing dates were postponed. This year, therefore, continued to witness fascinating cases in the field of Intellectual Property, especially with respect to Copyright and disputes related to cinematographic films released on OTT platforms. We bring to you the key Copyright related updates in India for one of the most overwhelming year of the decade.

1. Legislative Developments

Notification by the Copyright Office Seeking Inputs: Amendments to Copyright Act, 1957

The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) had issued a notification informing the industry stakeholders that the Copyright Office was seeking comments on any suitable amendment that needed to be carried out to the Copyright Act, 1957, keeping in view the technological advancement and increased use of internet and digitalization.

IPAB’s Notice on Fixing Royalty for Radio Statutory License

The IPAB, on an application made by Music Broadcast Ltd. and other “radio” broadcasters, had issued a notice communicating its intention to fix royalties for the broadcasting of copyrighted content through radio and had sought suggestions from owners of Copyrights, any broadcasting organization, radio broadcaster or any other interested persons regarding the same.

NDLI Published a Draft of India’s First Copyright Guide for Indian Libraries.

The National Digital Library of India (NDLI), a project under the Ministry of Education that seeks to provide access to educational content available in digital libraries across the globe, issued a draft Copyright Guide for Indian Libraries. The guide has been prepared to ensure access to content by the end-user and protect the rights of the knowledge creators at the same time. The guide lists down the obligations of the librarians that would mitigate their chances of receiving alleged copyright infringement notices and ensure the smooth functioning of the libraries.

Public Notice issued by Copyright Office w.r.t. the lockdown

The Copyright Office also issued a public notice dated 16 March 2020, which stated that all copyright matters which were listed from 17 March 2020 to 31 March 2020 had been adjourned and the same were to be rescheduled at a later date.

2. Case Laws

A quick rewind on the prominent judgments of the year:

Sameer Wadekar & Anr. v. Netflix Entertainment Services Pvt. Ltd. (2020 SCC Online Bom 659)

The plaintiff sought an interim injunction against the release of the web-series “BETAAL” on the ground that he noticed at least 13 similarities between the web-series and the Plaintiff’s script titled “VETAAL”. The Bombay High Court refused to restrain Defendant from releasing the web series on the ground that there existed only similarities in the concept of the two works and not in the theme, plot and storyline. It was reiterated that copyright subsists only in the expression of an idea and not on the idea itself. The Court also noted the fact that while Plaintiff claimed his work was original, he failed to establish that the defendant had access to the Plaintiff’s work, which is paramount to determine claims of plagiarism.

Vinay Vats v. Fox Star Studios India Pvt. Ltd. & Anr.

The Plaintiff approached the Delhi High Court seeking an interim injunction against the release of the movie Lootcase which the Plaintiff claimed to be a copy of his script for the film Tukkaa Fitt. Much like in the case of BETAAL and VETAAL, the Court ruled that copyright does not subsist in the idea itself, but it is confined to the expression of the idea. The Court observed that the plot cannot be the exclusive ownership of the Plaintiff as it can be expressed in a number of ways. Moreover, since the Defendant’s work had considerable dissimilarities from the Plaintiff’s work, the Court refused to grant any relief to the Plaintiff.

Zee Entertainment Enterprises v. Ameya Vinod Khopkar & Ors.

The Plaintiff sought an ad-interim injunction against the release of the film “De Dhakka 2” on the ground that it had been assigned the negative rights in the original film “De Dhakka” by the original creator. The Bombay High Court refused to entertain the plea since the assignment deed pertained only to the original work and the right to adaptation and reproduction in the form of a sequel or prequel had not been assigned to the Plaintiff. The Court also observed that the script, screenplay, concept, were considerably different from the original work, making it an independent and separate work.

Jagran Prakashan Ltd. v. Telegram FZ LLC & Ors

The Plaintiff, a well-known Hindi language daily newspaper offering news content via print and digital circulation, sued Telegram, a Dubai based instant messaging app for the unauthorized circulation of the Plaintiff’s e-paper in PDF form by several unidentified users of the Defendants, thereby infringing upon the trademark and copyright subsisting in the said e-paper.

It was the case of the Plaintiff that several channels and usernames containing the term “Dainik Jagran” were created in the Defendant’s Platform and the users stared circulating pdf copies and e-article from the Plaintiff’s website. Plaintiff further contended that the Defendant, as an intermediary, failed to discharge its duties of due diligence, when it permitted reproduction, adoption, distribution, transmission and dissemination of Plaintiff’s content.

The Delhi High Court, agreeing with the Plaintiff’s submissions ruled that the Defendant had failed to exercise due diligence, which required the Defendant to block the unidentified users within 36 hours of being aware of such infringing acts of the users. Hence, the Court ordered an ad-interim injunction against the Defendant for causing severe financial loss to the Plaintiff and infringement of trademark and copyright held by the Plaintiff due to the illegal circulation of the content of the e-newspaper.

Super Cassettes Industries Private Limited and Ors. Vs. Nandi Chinni Kumar and Ors

Defendant No.1, a soccer player entered into an agreement with the Plaintiffs, a music label and film production company, allowing them to produce a biography on him, for valuable consideration. Following this, the Plaintiff registered the script of the movie along with the title “Slum Soccer” with the Telangana Cinema Writers Association. Soon after the registration of the script with the Writers Association, the Plaintiff came across the story “JHUND” which was the storyline of the Coach (Defendant 2) of Defendant 1.

To restrain the Defendants from proceeding with the production of the infringing movie “Jhund”, the plaintiff filed a suit of injunction on the ground that continuing with directing the film would constitute copyright infringement since he owned the concept, thought, characterization, image, identity and expression of the life story of Defendant 1.

After watching the teaser of the Defendant’s movie “Jhund” the court observed prominent similarity in the plot, depiction and story with the registered script of “Slum Soccer”.Therefore, the Telangana High Court through its order dated October 19, 2020, restrained the telecast of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer ‘Jhund’ across India and abroad. The Defendants, aggrieved by this order, preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court, which agreed with the observation made by the subordinate court and refused to lift the stay ordered by the lower court. The case has brought up a significant issue with respect to whether true life events of a real person who is already in the public domain can be considered ‘property’ and whether the same would be entitled to copyright protection.

Microsoft Corporation and Ors. vs. Satveer Gaur and Ors

Microsoft Corporation, along with Adobe Systems and Quest Software (Plaintiffs) filed a suit of infringement before the Defendants, a company named ‘Chetu’ offering IT Services. It was the case of the Plaintiffs that the Defendant was using the unlicensed software programs of the Plaintiffs on its computers and offered the duplicated copies of the programs for sale, thereby causing incalculable damages to the Plaintiff’s Intellectual Properties and hard-earned goodwill.

The Delhi High Court found this an open-and-shut case since infringing copies of the Plaintiff’s software were confiscated from the Defendants, and the Court passed a decree in favour of the Plaintiff. Even though this may sound like a usual day at work for software giants fighting piracy and copyright infringement, cases like this speaks volume of the need for actions beyond just statutory and judicial remedies to tackle piracy. In the ever-growing technology-driven world, it would take a handful of clicks to illegally appropriate, reproduce, and sell software, making the author’s copyright and human labour employed behind it, fruitless.

Shivani Tibrewala vs. Rajat Mukherjee and Ors.

In yet another case of alleged plagiarism, the Hon’ble Mumbai High Court ruled that copyright does not subsist on the mere idea, but only on the expression of such an idea. The Hon’ble Court refuted the Plaintiff’s claim that the Defendant’s work “Umeed” was a substantial reproduction of her script of the play “The Laboratory” on the ground that, apart from the theme i.e., the malpractice of unethical drug testing on poor and needy individuals by pharmaceutical companies without obtaining informed consent of such individual, there was nothing in the two works which could be termed as similar.

Giant Rocket Media and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. vs Ms. Priyanka Ghatak And Ors

Whether a true story written in a book by one of the Defendant qualifies to be considered “Original” under the requirement of the Copyright Act?

The above issue was considered a primary issue when the Plaintiff filed an infringement suit against the Defendants seeking an injunction and an ex-parte order against the Defendants. Defendant No.3 was a retired joint commissioner of CBI who was the author of the book “CBI Insider speaks: Birlas to Sheila Dikshit”, from which the Plaintiff wanted to use Chapter 7 i.e., the story of the murder of Syed Modi, and turn it into a web-series and had also sought the permission from Defendant No.3. The Plaintiff claimed that Defendant No.2 had infringed on the same idea with the help of Defendant No.1 and 3.

The court opined that since the story covered in Chapter 7 is a true story that was already a part of the public domain, the same would not have qualified as original work. However, the court was of the view that the Plaintiff cannot claim exclusive rights over the contents since it was merely a narration of the crime and prosecution. The court concluded that neither the Plaintiff has a prima facie case to seek an injunction nor did the Defendants act in a fair manner. The Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal for an interim injunction against the web-series released by Defendant No.2 and vacated the ex-parte ad-interim order.

Conclusion

The year 2020 has been yet another busy year for the music and film industry, with the Courts flooded with claims of plagiarism and copyright infringement. However, courts have been deeply disappointed to find out that a couple of those cases lacked bonafide intention from the litigants since they approached the Courts in the “eleventh hour” to seek an injunction. As we look towards 2021, we expect that copyright, music, and entertainment disputes will continue to yield decisions on such important issues as the “originality” in works based on true life events, a yardstick of difference in expression of the same underlying idea, and the need for a better regime to tackle piracy in the fast-paced digital world.

The year 2020 has been yet another busy year for the music and film industry, with the Courts flooded with claims of plagiarism and copyright infringement. However, courts have been deeply disappointed to find out that a couple of those cases lacked bonafide intention from the litigants since they approached the Courts in the “eleventh hour” to seek an injunction. As we look towards 2021, we expect that copyright, music, and entertainment disputes will continue to yield decisions on such important issues as the “originality” in works based on true life events, a yardstick of difference in expression of the same underlying idea, and the need for a better regime to tackle piracy in the fast-paced digital world.

Image Credits: Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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