20th Century Fox Film Corporation v. Zee Telefilms Ltd. & Ors.

This recently decided case involves a TV show, Time Bomb, produced by Zee Telefilms in 2005. The Plaintiffs alleged that this was a copy of their acclaimed show 24. The case was filed in 2005 and seems slightly dated since none of these shows are on air anymore. It is also quite puzzling to see the court deciding  on whether an interim injunction should be granted nearly 7 years after the suit was first filed in 2005.

In this suit the Plaintiffs have brought a copyright infringement claim against the Defendants along with an order  to hand over possession of the infringing copies and all other incriminating material including the original script and all plates for production of  the serial Time Bomb. The Plaintiffs have also sought an interim injunction restraining the Defendants from telecasting their serial. The case was before the Delhi High Court.

The court in its rather long winded and detailed judgment which includes a very detailed comparison of both TV shows came to the conclusion that Time Bomb was not a copy of 24. Something which most of us who’ve seen and liked 24 would be very relieved to hear!

Interesting Legal Points

The court had some interesting points to consider in this case:

  • One of the contentions of the Plaintiff was that the format of the show had been copied. One of the unique features of the 24 is the real time format where the entire season tracks events in the life of the protagonists over one day. The court had to decide whether there could be any copyright in the format of a show. 
  • The court held that though, there is no copyright protection for an idea, concept, principles or discovery, there may be a valid copyright in an original form of expression of an idea or concept. A mere outline or theme is not copyrightable since it is only an idea, but a distinctive treatment of a plot or theme is copyrightable as a literary work or as a dramatic work. 
  • However the court held that in this case the 24 hour real time format was not copyrightable, they based this on several other shows and movies cited by the Defendants which also had similar formats. On the basis of this the court held that the techniques/format especially in use of digital clock, use of split screens and adoption of concept of “Real Time” were not unique to the Plaintiff’s serial. Further, these were enabled by use of modern technology and advanced camera and editing techniques therefore the Plaintiffs have no copyright in them.
  • The Plaintiffs alleged a similarity between the story line 24 and Time Bomb. They contended that the ‘concept and feel’ of the show had been copied. The court held that what really mattered was the qualitative difference between the two shows. On that basis they held that the story line of the Plaintiffs serial was substantially different from the story line of the Defendant’s serial “Time Bomb”. They based this on the rushes of both serials which they watched and compared.
  • The court observed that in such cases it is difficult to determine the difference between idea and expression.  It is difficult to determine where idea ends and expression begins. There is no final and exact way of determining what a copy is, or what a copy of the expression is, or what a copy of the idea is, or what a copy of the idea is only. Therefore copyright judgments such as this one should be read in light of their facts and circumstances.


It will be interesting to see if this case encourages similar suits from foreign film makers/tv show producers etc. after all there is no dearth of tv shows/movies in India which have been ‘inspired’ from the West. However if the length of time lapsed from the date of filing to the final decision in this case is anything to go by, it will result in a pyrrhic victory.

We had earlier blogged about a similar controversy in relation to the Bollywood movie, Partner and Hitch. However the present case is the first to be decided on this issue.

One of the contentions the Plaintiffs repeatedly relied on in their pleadings was that similarity in the expression of an idea should be based on the impressions of an average reasonable viewer, I’m quite sure the average viewer of 24 in India was hardly ever aware of the existence of Zee TV’s short lived show Time Bomb!

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  1. AvatarDivyavaani

    Ofcourse I remember seeing Time Bomb – and I do really think that it was a complete lift off 24.
    just because the quality was not good – does not mean we disregard the fact that it was indeed a unique concept and has been very very popular all over the world.
    I am very disappointed with the judgement.

    1. AvatarAnonymous

      yes time bomb was a complete rip off of 24 , what a bad judgement by our courts, this promote more copying and there wont be originality.


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