Recently, the Supreme Court passed a landmark ruling in a copyright and breach of confidence case between scriptwriter Jyoti Kapoor and producer/ director Kunal Kohli. The Apex Court ruled in favour of Jyoti Kapoor stating that there were similarities between her script ‘R.S.V.P’ and Kunal Kohli’s upcoming film ‘Phir Se’. The importance of this judgment stems from the fact that it boosts the confidence of many writers in our country, who are strapped for funds and wary of tackling large production houses through a long-drawn Court battle.
Ms. Kapoor in around 2010 conceptualized the plot and storyline for a new story for a film and started working on an original screenplay under the working title ‘R.S,V.P’. She registered the synopsis and storyline of R,S.V.P with the Film Writers Association (F.W.A) in Mumbai. In 2011, she registered the first draft of R.S.V.P with FWA as well. The final draft of R.S.V.P was registered with FWA in 2012. Ms. Kapoor, through an agent approached Mr. Kohli for production of a cinematograph film based on the screenplay of ‘R.S.V.P’. The complete screenplay of ‘R.S.V.P’ was emailed to Mr. Kohli by Ms. Kapoor’s agent. However, after further discussions they could not come to an agreement and the negotiations failed.
Subsequently, Ms. Kapoor approached another production house (2nd plaintiff) and entered into a formal agreement with them. The 2nd plaintiff started working on the film. Around this time, Ms. Kapoor from news articles of ‘Phir Se’ realized that there were striking similarities between her screenplay and ‘Phir Se’. Therefore, she filed a complaint with the FWA for plagiarism and infringement of copyright in her original screenplay. She also filed a complaint before Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (“IMPPA”). A Joint Dispute Settlement Committee of IMPPA and FWICE (Federation of Western India Cine Employees) issued a letter to Mr. Kohli in November 2014, asking him to stop shooting ‘Phir Se’ until these issues were resolved. On 25 November 2014, the FWA ruled in favour of Ms. Kapoor. Mr. Kohli appealed the same to the Appellate Tribunal who decided in favour of Ms. Kapoor as well. Before the matter was resolved by the Joint Dispute Settlement Committee, Ms. Kapoor moved the Bombay High Court praying for a preliminary injunction.
The Bombay High Court in May 2015 ruled in favour of Ms. Kapoor. The Court noted that there was no dispute over whether the screenplay was shared with Mr. Kohli in confidence. The issue however, was whether the screenplay itself was novel or whether it merely comprised of elements already in the public domain. The Bombay High Court analysed the storyline of R.S.V.P as well as Phir Se. The Court stated that while individual elements of the screenplay might not be novel, the combination of all these elements creates a new and unique story. Therefore, the Court ruled that the screenplay was a document meriting protection as confidential information. The Court also ruled that the essential similarities between R.S.V.P and Phir Se led to the conclusion that Mr. Kohli had used the information shared with him in confidence. Therefore, the Court noted that Ms. Kapoor had made out a prima facie case. As the screenplay was unpublished, damages would not be an adequate remedy and therefore, ruled that irreparable injury and balance of convenience were in favour of Ms. Kapoor. Therefore, an interim injunction was granted against Mr. Kohli prohibiting him from releasing the film.
However, as per this report, the Bombay High Court later vacated this stay in return for a guarantee of Rs. 50 lakhs. Ms. Kapoor then moved the Supreme Court on this issue. While the judgment is not available yet, it appears from newspaper reports that the ruling was in favour of Ms. Kapoor. Mr. Kohli has been directed to pay Rs. 25 lakhs as compensation as well as to credit Ms. Kapoor for the story/idea. While this may not be an out-and-out victory for Ms. Kapoor (as Phir Se will now be released and not the movie of the second plaintiff), it is still quite a victory for the writers who have been given a boost of confidence for pursuing their copyright battles.