Copyright

Madras High Court mulls the not so glittery tale of "Thangam"


The High Court of Madras has in this judgment (the cause title of which I absolutely cannot locate!), decided the application for interim injunction seeking restrain against an alleged case of copyright infringement with a focus on the evidence of proof of infringement vis-a-vis ingredients mentioned in Order 39 of the CPC.

Briefly put, in this case, the Plaintiff had alleged that on 26th June 2008, it had been assigned the rights by one of the Defendants to produce a “mega serial” based on a story idea. Prior to this, the said Defendant had already attempted to launch this storyline into a mega serial, and had discussed the same with another party (also a Defendant in this suit). Thereafter, it was alleged that, colluding and entering into talks with other Defendants, the 30 paragraph storyline was launched as the popular Tamil serial “Thangam” (meaning ‘gold’ in Tamil) despite the assignment deed in favour of the Plaintiff.

Summarizing the findings first, called upon to decide the question of an interim injunction in this case, the Court correctly (in my opinion) used the facts as presented before it to state that since all the various issues involved, were contentious, the same would require to be proved by way of evidence tendered or evidence placed before the Court. Therefore, not judging the issues, even if the Plaintiff’s assigned copyright here was being infringed, the damage of the same in the interim would not be greater than stopping the production of the mega serial, before the matter was finally disposed of on evidence.

While the case can pretty much be summarized in a four line paragraph, the more interesting issues in specific to watch out in the case are:

– Section 19(4) of the Copyright Act : Can third parties (not being the assignor) invoke Section 19 (4) against an assignee where the assignment of copyright is called into question?

In this blogger’s opinion, the statute does not provide a clear answer to this. However, a reading of Sections 18(2) clearly states that for the purposes of assignment an assignee would (for rights as specified), and an assignor would (for other rights relating to the same) be considered the owner of the copyright.

Keeping in mind that position, the invocation of Section 19(4) would clearly be for the ownership of the said rights- which then can only be called into question by the person i.e. the assignor who assigned such rights following principles of privity of contract.

(Readers comments are welcomed on this point, since this is just a theory- and I am not sure if this is the correct position in law).

– Idea-Expression Dichotomy: Here, a copy of the 30 paragraph plot that was initially given to one of the Defendants by the original author, and then later to the Plaintiff. When the other Defendants alleged used this concept as a base to create a “mega serial”, the same was contended to violate the copyright vested in that literary work. Interestingly here, the Court took a two pronged approach-
(a) RG Anand v. Delux Films, which expounded the idea expression dichotomy in India, and held that a copyright is infringed only where the viewer/reader has the “unmistakable impression” that such allegedly infringing work is a copy of the original.
(b) Even if the work here i.e. the plot of the serial “Thangam”, was in fact used as the base plot/skeleton, the amount of work put into converting the same into a mega serial was to be taken into account.

All that glitters may not infringe Thangam

In terms of the judgment itself and the facts that they emanate from, the Judge in my opinion correctly holds that these are questions for trial and require evidence to be proved for an injunction to be granted. However, a comment in passing made in the judgment suggests that the Learned Judge believes that in cases of such nature (para 18), it is not possible to grant an interim injunction. As a generalization, this may be problematic.

Clear cut cases of copyright infringement are difficult to find at an interim stage. They only happen when there is an act of blatant reproduction of a certain plot. While the idea-expression dichotomy is a necessary facet of copyright law that cannot be done away with, perhaps a lower standard than that set in the RG Anand case and followed thereafter must be set, for copyright owners to be granted a relief in the interim.

Ingredients for a temporary injunction
Another portion of the judgment I found particularly problematic, is the growing trend amongst judges to examine only the prima facie case for a temporary injunction. In this particular case, the Judge went a step further to examine the balance of convenience, only because a prima facie case had not been made out!

A particularly persistent Professor in college, spent many hours trying to find the right method to educate a fairly disinterested batch of students as to the various provisions of the CPC; which in all fairness, is a difficult task considering how wildly exciting the statute is! However, from a practitioners’ point of view, it is continually reminded to us that the CPC is in fact almost a self sufficient code on procedure, with rules set for almost all eventualities. In such a scenario, maybe it is necessary to take one step back now and concentrate on the mandate of the statute and make it a point to prove it all, before a temporary injunction is granted.

With those thoughts on the CPC, the idea-expression dichotomy and an attempt made to interpret Section 19(4), our readers are invited to give us their feedback.

Others can do the following:
a. Take a peek at the serial in question at these times
b. Inform this blogger as to the cause title in the case 🙂
c. In line with the current name of the serial, keep a watch on the ever rising gold prices

3 comments.

  1. Avatariprcrazy

    Dear Kruttika Vijay,

    In the aspect of CPC and Interim Injunction I slightly differ from you.

    The cynosure judgment of Dalpat Kumar v. Prahlad Singh AIR 1993 SC 276 staes that:
    “5. Prima facie case is not to be confused with prima facie title which has to be established, on evidence at the trial. Only prima facie case is a substantial question raised, bona fide, which needs investigation and a decision on merits. Satisfaction that there is a prima facie case by itself is not sufficient to grant injunction. The court further has to satisfy that non-interference by the court would result in irreparable injury to the party seeking relief and that there is no other remedy available to the party except one to grant injunction and he needs protection from the consequence of apprehended injury or dispossession of apprehended injury or dispossession. Irreparable injury, however, does not mean that there must be no physical possibility of repairing the injury, but means only that the injury must be a material one, namely on that cannot be adequately compensated by way of damages. The third condition also is that ‘the balance of convenience’ must be in favour of granting injunction. The court while granting or refusing to grant injunction should exercise sound judicial discretion to find the amount of substantial mischief or injury which is likely to be caused to the parties, if the injunction is refused and compare it with that it is likely to be caused to the other side if the injunction is granted. If on weighing competing possibility or probabilities of likelihood of injury and if the court considers that pending the suit, the subject matter should be maintained in status quo, an injunction would be issued. Thus the court has to exercise its sound judicial discretion in granting or refusing the relief of ad interim injunction pending the suit.”
    It may be noted that the aforesaid three ingredients i.e. prima-facie case, balance of convenience and irreparable injury are needed to be satisfied before granting interim injunction. The said three conditions need not to be examined alternatively but for granting it is indispensable that all these three conditions are satisfied.
    Your statement “……the growing trend amongst judges to examine only the prima facie case for a temporary injunction. In this particular case, the Judge went a step further to examine the balance of convenience, only because a prima facie case had not been made out!” is, I regret to say, according to me, is misconceived.

    Regards

    IPR Crazy

    Reply
  2. AvatarAnjali Menon

    I have been able to locate the short title of the case and details of the representatives of both parties as follows:

    K.S.GITA Vs. VISION TIME INDIA PVT LTD.

    Petitioner’s Adv. : M/S.A.A.MOHAN

    Respondent’s Adv. : M/S.T.KOKILAVANE

    Reply

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