Delux Films & Ors
Appellant- R.G Anand
Respondent- Delux Films & Ors
Decided On: 18.08.1978
- Section 2(f), Section 13(3)(a) of the Copyright Act, 1957
- Article 136 of Indian Constitution
- The appellant/plaintiff was playwright, dramatist and producer of stage plays. He wrote and produced a play called ‘Hum Hindustani’ in 1953 which was enacted in Delhi theatres and was re-staged in 1954, 1955 and in 1956. The play was based on Provincialism and received huge success so appellant/plaintiff thought of filming it.
- The respondent/defendant approached appellant/plaintiff in 1954 after an eminent script writer told him about the play when respondent/defendant was considering making a movie on the topic of Provincialism. On hearing the script, respondent/defendant told appellant/plaintiff that he would inform appellant/plaintiff of his decision upon return to Mumbai.
- In 1955, respondent/defendant announced the production of a movie called “New Delhi”. After watching the movie, one of the artists in the play told appellant/plaintiff that it was similar to the play.
- Appellant/plaintiff wrote to respondent/defendant about his concerns that the movie was a copy of the play, and respondent told appellant that the movie was on the topic of Provincialism but it was not based on the play as the play in itself wasn’t enough for a movie and the characters and story treatment, etc. was very different from the play. In 1956, appellant/plaintiff read the newspaper comments about the movie and then later watched the movie himself and felt that the movie was entirely based on the play. He found that the movie had one character with the same name as in his play.
- So, the appellant/plaintiff after coming to the conclusion that the movie was indeed a copy of his play, consequently filed a suit for permanent injunction seeking a restraint against the respondents/defendant from infringement his Copyright in the play ‘Hum Hindustani’.
- The Trial Court along with the High Court decided in favor of the respondents/defendants asserting that the act of the respondents/defendants of producing or exhibiting the film ‘New Delhi’ is not a copyright infringement.
- Appellant/plaintiff filed a suit at the District Court and the learned trial judge held, in his wisdom, that the movie ‘New Delhi’ made by the respondents/defendants does not infringe the copyright of the plaintiff. On appeal, the Delhi High Court upheld the judgment of the district court. An appeal against the judgment of the Delhi High Court was filed at the Supreme Court.
- So, the Appellant/plaintiff preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.
Contentions by Parties:-
- The principles laid down that the legal conjectures draw by the trial and High Court are in contrast to the settled principles established by Indian, American and English Courts towards infringement of Copyright.
- The similarities between the play and the movie are so close that an inference can be easily drawn that the movie is indeed an imitation of the play.
- The defendants were already familiar with the play before directing the movie and it was on the basis of the play they decided to make the movie.
- The Trial Court as well as High Court applied the law correctly and it is futile to go into the merits of the concurrent findings of the facts established by the two courts.
- There exist a number of dissimilarities between the play and the movie in relation to the spirit and the content and hence there is no infringement of copyright.
- The respondent was undeniably in search of a story based upon the theme of ‘provincialism’ and the play did bestow him with a chance to produce a movie but with different climax, story, theme and characterisation.
- Whether the cinematograph film was colourable imitation/ substantial or material copy of the play?
- Whether a name of a person in a copyrightable subject matter can also be copyrighted?
The Supreme Court observed the following:-
- There exists no copyright in relation to an idea, subject matter, themes, plots or historical or legendary facts. Infringement is restricted only to the form, manner, arrangement and expression of the idea by the author of the copyright work.
- When the author develops and acts upon the same idea it is bound to have a common source and similarities. In such circumstances the Court should settle on whether the similarities are substantial or fundamental in nature or not with respect to the mode of expression adopted in the work. If substantial or fundamental portion has been copied, then it would amount as infringement.
- The other reliable test to ascertain whether there is an infringement or not is to analyse the impression created on the spectator or reader subsequent to reading or watching the works. If they believe that the consequent work is an imitation of the original work, it will definitely amount to infringement.
- In case where there is a common theme but the presentation and treatment is dissimilar such that the subsequent work itself becomes a new work, it will not result in violation of copyright. The court said that,“If on a perusal of the copyrighted work the defendant’s work appears to be a transparent rephrasing; or a copy of a substantial and material part of the original, the charge of plagiarism must stand proved”.
- When the issue relates to the infringement of copyright of stage play done by the producer of a film or Director, it has to be kept in mind that in contrast with a play a film deals with a broader prospective, a larger area and a greater background where the Defendant has the liberty to introduce a multiplicity of incidents in order to give colour and complexion to it making it dissimilar from the way in which the copyrighted work has articulated the idea. Despite this, if the viewer after watching the film gets a general impression that film in general is an imitation of the play, it will amount to violation of the copyright.
- So, the court held that in the present case, the play and the film revolve around the same theme of ‘provincialism’ but it is well established that a mere idea cannot be the subject matter of copyright. The story of the film portrayed two concerns of provincialism that it is firstly, the function of provincialism with respect to marriage and secondly, in relation to renting out accommodation. Further, it also dealt with issues such as evils of a society dominated by caste and the ills of dowry. The latter two issues have not been dealt in the play at all.
- Since, the play was restricted only to one aspect of provincialism which is regarding the marriage between people belonging to different states. Thus, in many ways the story and its depiction is quite different from the one in the play. Therefore, the court held that it was not a case of violation of copyright. The similarities were trivial and not a ‘substantial’ or ‘material’ copy of the original play and the dissimilarities outweighed the similarities.
- And, the court also held that after seeing the play as well as the film no prudent person would conclude or consider the film to be a replica of the original play. If the play and the film is compared closely from scene to scene, circumstance to circumstance and with regards to climax to anti-climax, in consistency, management, purport and representation, the picture is significantly different from the play.
- Hence the present case fails to fulfil the requirements of a colourable limitation of the play and cannot amount to copyright infringement. Also, the court held that the name “Subramaniam” which appeared in both the movie and the play wasn’t copyrightable therefore, the use of the name wouldn’t result in copyright infringement. Thus, the appeal was dismissed.
Rule of Law:-
The provision of the law which was under scrutiny by the Hon’ble High Court of India was the substantial resemblance between the original work and the alleged copy which results in the infringement of copyright.
To conclude, it can be said that the Supreme Court judgement in this case is considered as a landmark decision in the area of Indian copyright law as it clarified that copyright protection does not extend to mere ideas. Therefore, this case has been cited and followed in many of the subsequent judgments from different courts in India.