Exclusion of Promo's Contents from Film Not Unfair Trade Practice

Allowing the appeal filed by a film production company, the Supreme Court recently held that the exclusion from the movie of contents of its promotional trailer or ‘promo’ did not amount to deficiency in service or unfair trade practice.[1] With this, the Court set aside the decision of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC).

Facts of the case

The promotional trailer of the film, ‘Fan’, produced by the appellant company, contained a song that was not played in the movie. Alleging that such exclusion caused ‘mental agony’, the complainant approached the District Consumer Redressal Forum. The complaint came to be dismissed, with the Forum maintaining that there was no relationship of ‘consumer’ and ‘service provider’. The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, on appeal, noted that entertainment services were covered under the definition of ‘service’ and that the appellant was a service provider. Holding that there was a deficiency in service and that the appellant had engaged in an unfair trade practice as per provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the State Commission awarded compensation and cost in favour of the complainant.

This decision of the State Commission was later challenged before the NCDRC. However, the Commission opined that the exclusion of the song, depicted in the promo, from the movie constituted unfair trade practice. It was also held that it amounted to a deficiency in service, as including the song in the promotional trailer led to an implied promise that it would be played in the film. Subsequently, the appellant filed the current appeal before the Supreme Court.

Advertisement as a means of creative and artistic expression

It was observed that apart from being informative, advertisements could also be a means of creative and artistic expression. It was not a given that an advertisement’s content directly pertained to information about the product or service. Similarly, in the present case, the song included in the promotional trailer could be seen as a way to create buzz about the film’s release “rather than to purely represent information about the contents of the film“.

No deficiency in service – a promotional trailer is not an offer

As to the complainant’s contention that there was a deficiency in service (entertainment service), the Court pointed out that the promotional trailer was unilateral and independent of the transaction involving the purchase of movie tickets. Explaining the circumstances in which a proposal became a promise under contract law, the Court stated that the promotional trailer was not an offer in the first place and, hence, was not capable of becoming a promise. It followed that the promotional trailer did not result in any right of claim regarding the movie’s content.

Ingredients of ‘unfair trade practice’ not made out

Referring to certain case laws, the Court highlighted that only substantive and material discrepancies between the represented fact and the actual fact were covered under ‘unfair trade practice’. The Court held that the ingredients of ‘unfair trade practice’, under provisions of the 1986 Act, were not made out in the case at hand. Additionally, to prove such trade practice, it was held that the burden was on the complainant to produce cogent evidence, and this burden remained undischarged.

Transactions of service involving art

Considering the nature of services involving art and the discretion of the service provider involved in their presentation, the Court noted that variations are justly substantial and “the standard by which a court of law judges the representation, followed by the service, must be different and must account for the creative element involved in such transactions“.

Conclusion

This judgment defiantly came as a reprieve to the filmmakers as the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that trailers are artistic works, not just factual summaries of the movie. This means filmmakers have creative freedom and can’t be sued for leaving out scenes in the final cut. The Court emphasised that trailers aren’t guarantees of the film’s content. This decision reminds the lower Courts to consider the artistic nature of filmmaking when dealing with similar cases.

References:

[1] Yash Raj Films Private Limited v. Afreen Fatima Zaidi & Anr. (CA No. 4422/2024); Judgment available at: https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2021/21136/21136_2021_4_1501_52425_Judgement_22-Apr-2024.pdf 

Image Credits:

As to the complainant’s contention that there was a deficiency in service (entertainment service), the Court pointed out that the promotional trailer was unilateral and independent of the transaction involving the purchase of movie tickets. Explaining the circumstances in which a proposal became a promise under contract law, the Court stated that the promotional trailer was not an offer in the first place and, hence, was not capable of becoming a promise. It followed that the promotional trailer did not result in any right of claim regarding the movie’s content.

POST A COMMENT