The Allahabad High Court has refused to grant any interim relief against the release of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Bollywood film ‘Chehre’ in a plea alleging copyright infringement.
The Court was hearing an appeal against an order of District Judge, Ghaziabad who had rejected the application of the plaintiff, Uday Prakash for a temporary injunction in his suit for infringement of copyright.
In this case, Uday Prakash (Plaintiff) said that his copyrighted work was plagiarized by Anand Pandit (Defendant) who was the producer of the movie “Chehre”. The Plaintiff contended that he had done his copyright registration for his work from the Copyright office in New Delhi under the name “Highway 39” in 2007.
The Plaintiff said that he 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 audiovisual projects. Mazhar Kamran is said to have assured the latter that he would show the copyrighted work to a few prominent producers, of whom Anand Pandit was one.
Later on in June 2019, Uday Prakash came to know from reliable sources in the film industry that Anand Pandit is making a movie which is very much similar to his copyrighted work. Plaintiff claimed that he got the information that Defendant no 1 has scheduled the movie under the name and title of “Chehre”. The Plaintiff also read the news and collected information available in the public domain about the movie and also visited the production house around the month of December, 2019.
The Plaintiff contended that till now he had not assigned, transferred or sold his copyright in the work to any third party and has it with himself. He also submitted that the violation of his copyright would cause loss of name and reputation of Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff argued that the infringement due to the production and release of the feature film would cause Plaintiff severe harassment, loss of reputation and would also have an effect on his professional prospects and his reputation as an author.
The Plaintiff claimed that the wrong done by the Defendants not only constitutes an infringement of the Plaintiff’s registered copyright but an act of breach of confidence, besides unlawful trade. It has the effect of depriving the plaintiff of the fruits of his intellectual labour created by the investment of colossal time, intellect and effort.
To this Defendants pleaded that the copyrighted work was devoid of ingenuity and originality as it was an adoption of a banal theme in the public domain. The copyrighted work is said to have been borrowed from a novel titled “A Dangerous Game” written by a Swiss author, Friedrich Durrenmatt.
It was argued that the theme and plot of the copyrighted work were drawn substantially from the last-mentioned novel and, therefore, lacks originality. It was pleaded by defendant no.1 that the feature film is in no manner similar, or connected with the copyrighted work nor does it infringe it in any manner.
The defendants said in the written statement and in opposition to the application for temporary injunction that the film was not scheduled to be released in the month of February, 2020 and the suit was, therefore, no more than a quia timet action, i.e founded on unreliable sources and erroneous apprehension.
The Plaintiff had particularly submitted that the remarks in the impugned order that say that the copyrighted work though registered is an unpublished document are absolutely extraneous to the consideration of a case for grant of a temporary injunction. It was also argued that an unpublished copyright, unregistered or registered, is protected intellectual property. It cannot be plagiarized merely because the owner of the copyright has not published it until the time of infringement.
The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff’s claim to have shared the copyrighted work with Mazhar Kamran, whom the Plaintiff believes may have passed on the script to the Defendants, is founded on sheer conjecture. There is not the slightest proof offered that the Plaintiff, in fact, shared this script of the copyrighted work with Mazhar Kamran or the further proof that Mazhar Kamran, in turn, passed on that intellectual property to the Defendants.
It was also emphasized by the Defendants that no details of “the reliable sources” have been pleaded. The suit, therefore, is based on hearsay, conjectures and surmises.
The Court compared the two scripts and was of the opinion that while the principle theme is common to both scripts, there are “a host of differences in the script leading to the feature film.” In this light, the Court rejected the plea for temporary injunction to stay the release of the movie. The Court, however, directed the trial court to decide the suit expeditiously and conclude the trial within four months.
Hon’ble HC of Allahabad said, “There is, thus, prima facie a materially different and distinctive development and treatment of the same theme in both the scripts. In the prima facie opinion of this Court, there is, apart from the fundamentals of the basic theme that appear to have come from a common source, no such distinctive feature in the copyrighted version that has been prima facie plagiarized”. The Court said that while the movie and the copyrighted work alleged to have been plagiarized, appear to have come from a common source, they are materially different in treatment and development.
“It must be remarked here that whatever comparison has been done, is not, in any manner, a final expression of opinion on merits about the distinctive similarities or the dissimilarities. That is something that has to await trial, where wholesome evidence would now be led. All the remarks here are limited to the decision of the temporary injunction matter and nothing more,” the order said.
This case study has been written by Kinnari Bhatt during her internship with MikeLegal.