The Story of the Laawaris Song, as Told by the Calcutta HC

Three orders in the Laawaris/Housefull song matter passed separately on 29 and 30 April 2010 in three different suits are now available online here, here and here. Knitting the three orders helps put together the story of the song, and how each of the parties has claimed to own title to the copyright, which is what I attempt to do below. For our previous posts in this, read here and here.

The parties in the suits
, who have played the role of petitioner and defendant variously, include:
  • Puneet Mehra (qua son of, and representative of the heirs of Prakash Mehra) Prakash Mehra was the director, producer and lyricist of the song Apni toh jaise taise.
  • Anandji Virji Shah, one-half of the music composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji, who composed the song
  • Saregama India Ltd., a music label
  • Super Cassettes Industries Ltd.(SCIL), a music label
  • Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment (NGE) Pvt Ltd., a film production house
The agreements in the story
  • 1981: between film production house Prakash Mehra Productions and Saregama relating to, among other things, the rights of the soundtrack in the film Laawaris (1981).
  • 2010: Signed on 11 February 2010 between Saregama, SCIL and NGE.
I shall not go into the chain of events that led to suit. Suffice it to say that Saregama, SCIL and NGE appear to have received notices from Puneet Mehra and Anandji in re the use of the song in Housefull’s soundtrack (2010). Saregama then obtained an interim injunction from the Calcutta High Court under section 60 of the Copyright Act (remedy in case of groundless threat of legal proceedings) against Puneet Mehra and Anandji restraining the latter from claiming any rights in the song. This injunction was vacated on 29 April, when Mehra and Anandji filed their suits claiming title to the song.

Justice Nadira Patherya, who heard all three matters, repeated her observations in two orders, i.e., the one vacating the injunction in favour of Saregama against Mehra/Anandji, and the other granting an injunction in favour of Mehra against NGE and others in re the use of the song. in both cases, the judge zoomed in on the 1981 agreement, and the rights that flowed from it, as being “the only document that needs to be construed at this stage”. She interpreted it as follows:

Producer Mehra transferred and assigned absolutely to Saregama
  1. the copyright to make records of all contracts works and
  2. the copyright, performing right and “all other rights” in the contract works embodied in its film.
The key phrase is “all other rights”. According to the court, this did not include exploitation of the song, as claimed by Saregama.

In 1981, Saregama acquired a right in the soundtrack, and, therefore, was assigned rights with respect to such soundtrack as embodied in the producer’s films. Whatever royalty was paid, therefore, was for such physical and non-physical rights in the soundtrack.

According to the agreement, Mehra was to make the sound track available exclusively to Saregama. Both parties were to ensure the security of such sound track. To assume that such right extended to allow exploitation of the sound track in another film would be contrary to the terms of agreement.

On the other hand, the 2010 agreement is 3-party agreement which is in the nature of a license. According to the court, if the 2010 license had been limited to re-recording the song, there would have been no problem. However, because the 2010 agreement allowed the exploitation of the song in “Housefull”, it fell outside the scope of the 1981 agreement. Therefore, an injunction was granted in favour of Prakash Mehra’s heirs against the respondents from exploiting the song till 30 June 2010.

Meanwhile, there was the third claim of rights from the music composer(s) of the song. Refusing to grant an interim injunction, the court noted that they could have no exclusive rights, as the music was composed on commission for valuable consideration from Prakash Mehra. Critically, they failed to show any independent musical notation or score to show that the composition was independent of the film. The court also pointed out that if the composers had indeed been owners of the musical score, some royalty would have been claimed or paid. There was no proof or any such royalty, nailing the coffin on their claims further. This was the story we covered in our original post here. Anandji, in blue, on the right. Image from here.

The latest, of course, is reports that the brains behind NGA, Sajid Nadiadwala, may well decide to sue Saregama for defamation now that the use of the song has been stayed, which we posted on here. Nadiadwala’s image from here. I know we’ve all had an overdose of this story in the past one week, so shall keep mum for a bit!

It is of course entirely appropriate that SpicyIP’s regular guest poster Nikhil Krishnamurthy should have written on this issue just a short while ago. The author-centric changes in the Copyright Bill, if regularised. will hugely change the way claims to ownership and royalty play out, especially in the films industry in India. Read the posts on this here and here.


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2 thoughts on “The Story of the Laawaris Song, as Told by the Calcutta HC”

  1. yesterday (May 5, 2010)i watched the movie “Housefull” ……the song “Aapka ka kya hoga” was very much there…

    is it not against the court ruling.

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