Allahabad High Court refuses to grant injunction to stay release of ‘Chehre’ movie in copyright infringement case
Shreyasi Nath, student: KIIT School of Law
Facts of the case-
Hindi Poet, Scholar, Filmmaker, and Journalist Uday Prakash had filed a suit in December 2019, wherein he made a temporary injunction application against infringement of a copyright owned by him. The case relates to the story, screenplay, and dialogues for a feature film registered with the Copyright Office at New Delhi under the name of ‘Highway-39’ in 2007.
Prakash had discussed the copyrighted work with one of his acquaintances, Mazhar Kamran, who was, at the relevant time, working with the plaintiff as a cameraman on several audio-visual projects that the plaintiff had in hand during the years 2000-2005.
Mazhar Kamran had assured Prakash that he would show the copyrighted work to a few prominent producers. Anand Pandit was one among those producers, i.e., respondent no.1 in the instant appeal. Anand Pandit is a well-known producer and proprietor of Anand Pandit Motion Pictures, whereas Rumi Jaffery, respondent no.2. is a renowned Director of Saraswati Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai.
In June 2019, the appellant came to know, from reliable sources in the Film Industry, that respondent no.1 was making a movie with the title of ‘Chehre’ under the direction of respondent no.2, which was based precisely on the same ‘plot and premise’ as his copyrighted work.
The appellant then sent a cease-and-desist notice to the defendants on June 14, 2019, which was answered through a reply on June 29, 2019, denying infringement of the copyrighted work.
The appellant’s case that the respondents signed high profile artists like Amitabh Bachchan, Emraan Hashmi, and Rhea Chakraborty to work in the feature film without permission to use his copyrighted work and converting his literary work into a motion picture.
Delving deeper into the Court’s Explanation-
The Court considered and compared the appellant’s copyrighted script and the script concerning the feature film and found that they share a common theme. The Court observed that the two scripts prima facie are distinctly different treatments of the same theme. However, it is equally valid that the two scripts are ‘distinct’ and ‘individual treatments of the same subject and theme’ developed by different individuals in their way due to their intellectual exertions.
The Court referred to the famous case of R.G. Anand v. Delux Films and others where the Hon’ble Supreme Court had made a wholesome consideration as to what would constitute a copyright infringement. The Supreme court stated that where individuals develop the same idea differently, it is manifest that similarities are bound to occur with the source being common. In such a case, the courts should determine whether or not the similarities are on fundamental or substantial aspects of the mode of expression adopted in the copyrighted work. If the defendant’s work is nothing but a literal imitation of the copyrighted work with some variations here and there, it will violate the copyright.
Justice Munir further remarked that the Court had done whatever comparison was not, in any manner, a final expression of opinion on merits about the distinctive similarities or the dissimilarities.
The instant case was something that had to await trial, which would now lead to wholesome evidence. All the remarks here are limited to the decision of the temporary injunction matter and nothing more.
What if the plaintiff succeeds?
The Court believed that the defendants would have to display an acknowledgment giving due recognition to the plaintiff’s authorship concerning the copyrighted work if they succeed in the present suit. Further, the plaintiff would also be entitled to monetary relief of a proportionate amount based on how much the movie earns. The movie will suitably display the acknowledgment that the feature film ‘Chehre’ is made based on the copyrighted work concerning the plaintiff’s authorship.
Present status of the suit-
The Court directed to expedite the trial of the suit and directed the District Judge to fix one date every week and endeavor to conclude the trial within four months.