|Image from here|
The remake ‘Zanjeer’ is set to be released on 6th September, as the Bombay High Court refused to grant an injunction against its release (here). We have tracked the development of this case here, here, here, here and here.
To briefly recap, the Plaintiffs Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar had alleged copyright infringement of the script they had written for the original ‘Zanjeer’ produced by Prakash Mehra in 1973. They prayed for a permanent order of injunction restraining Sumeet Mehra and others (heirs of Prakash Mehra, the Defendants in this case) from in any manner exhibiting, releasing, displaying, communicating to the public anywhere in the world the remake film “Zanjeer” in Hindi and Telugu languages or any other language.
The Plaintiffs contended that they were the authors of the script of the original Zanjeer. According to them, this literary work was never commissioned by Prakash Mehra and it was in existence even before Prakash Mehra had approached the Plaintiffs for the same. Moreover, Prakash Mehra was granted a one time permission to make the said film in 1973. Therefore, Prakash Mehra’s rights were restricted only to the cinematographic film “Zanjeer” made in the year 1973 and did not extend to the underlying “literary work” since there was no authorization from the Plaintiffs to this effect. All the rights including the right to remake a cinematographic film based on the literary work, in any language in the absence of any assignment under Sections 18 and 19 of the Copyright Act continues to remain with the Plaintiffs and no remake film can be made based on the said literary work by the Defendants, without the written consent of the Plaintiffs.
However, the Court came to the conclusion that Prakash Mehra had commissioned the work from the Plaintiffs for a consideration of Rs. 55, 000 each and was therefore the first owner of the underlying works of the film which included the literary work. The turning point of the case was the following sequence of events: (i) Plaintiff No.1 narrated the “ story idea” of “Zanjeer” to Dharmendra; (ii) Dharmendra paid valuable consideration for that story, although it will be a matter of evidence whether the payment was to purchase the story (as stated by Plaintiff No.1 in his interview to ETC network) or as token blessing money as alleged in the rejoinder of Plaintiff No. 1; (iii) Dharmendra narrated the story to Prakash Mehra and asked him to take a script from the Plaintiffs based on the said story; and (iv) Dharmendra then commissioned the Plaintiffs to write a script on behalf of Prakash Mehra based on the said story.
Several interviews of Prakash Mehra and Salim Khan were examined and the court found clear statements that showed that the script had been bought by Dharmendra and later by Prakash Mehra from Salim Khan and it was not a case of mere licensing. The assessment order of the relevant year along with the profit and loss account and the breakup of the costs of the movie were also produced where it was shown that Rs. 55,000 was paid to each author as a consideration for ‘script and screenplay’. The court disregarded a letter written by Dharmendra that the Plaintiffs produced to prove that the script was not bought because the letter was produced at a very belated stage.
The Plaintiffs had also contended that they had licensed the “remake rights” of the literary work in respect of all South Indian languages, in favour of Mr. S.V.S. Manian. The Plaintiffs produced an affidavit of the wife of Shri S.V.S. Manian dated 31st December, 2012, confirming that her husband had bought the story rights in the Hindi film “Zanjeer” from the Plaintiffs for a period of 25 years for the making of the Tamil film “Sirithu Vazha Vendum”. But no written license was produced. The court disregarded the affidavit and left its authenticity to be checked at the stage of cross examination.
On the basis of these facts and based on the decision in the IPRS case, the court came to a prima facie conclusion that it is the producer i.e. Prakash Mehra who became the first owner of the copyright in the underlying work (the script) and therefore had a right to remake the same (this right now vests with his heirs (the Defendants). Moreover, the court found that the Plaintiffs had unduly delayed in bringing the case to court. They were closely associated with the Film Industry and therefore could not take the plea that they were not aware that the Defendants were in the process of remaking Zanjeer, which was widely publicized.
Also, since the Plaintiffs had quantified their claims in monetary terms at Rs. 6 crores, the court found that they were not entitled to a mandatory injunction. This was because even if the Court would have come to the conclusion that the Plaintiffs are the owners of the copyright since the Plaintiffs’ claim falls within the provisions of Section 38 (3) (c) and not under Section 38 (3) (b) of the Specific Relief Act,1963, their claims would be satisfied by payment of monetary compensation and not by an injunction.