SpicyIP Tidbit: Law Student Claiming Copyright Infringement Gets an Interim Injunction Against 2 Law Asst. Professors

Meme from here

Ask anyone in academia what’s their worst nightmare. And probably, they’ll respond by saying “plagiarism.” Many face it, but only seldom do we hear stories where someone does something about it. Sharing one fascinating story here, a law student sued a law college, two of its professors and the editor of a journal alleging copyright infringement.

The suit was instituted by Aathira Mannath A. (plaintiff), who alleged that earlier in 2023, she had participated in the “Global Jural Conclave 2023” organized by Lloyd Law College (Defendant no. 1) and presented a paper titled “The Challenges of providing Humanitarian Assistance in Non-Permissive Environments.” As reported by Bar and Bench (B&B) here, the plaintiff, in May 2023, discovered that her paper was published in the “Journal of Survey in Fisheries Sciences” under the name of two Assistant Professors from Lloyd Law College. The B&B article further states that the plaintiff issued a legal notice to the defendants seeking removal of the impugned article from the journal, an unconditional apology from the defendant along with an acknowledgment that the impugned work belongs to her. Since no response was received from the defendants, the plaintiff instituted a suit before the Principal City Civil and Sessions Judge, Bengaluru.

The court took note of the above allegations and after assessing other evidence (like the certificate of participation and allegedly infringing publication) held that the plaintiff was able to establish a prima facie case. (PDF of the Order) Keeping in mind the principle elucidated in Rameshwari Devi v. Nirmala Devi (para 46), the court passed an ex-parte interim injunction order on the condition that the plaintiff should give an express undertaking to compensate the defendant in actual costs and pay mesne profits if she fails in the litigation.  

While it is refreshing to see that the court took a cautious approach while issuing the ex-parte interim injunction order, it is worth noting that the order does not mention even a single section of the Copyright Act or how the impugned journal article was found to be infringing the plaintiff’s copyright. As per the B&B piece, the plaintiff asserted a violation of her special right to claim authorship under Section 57 and has sought remedy under Section 65 (punishment for possessing plates to manufacture infringing copies.) However, it is quite strange to see that the plaintiff is alleging copyright infringement without citing Section 51, which explains when copyright is infringement, or Section 63, which prescribes the punishment for copyright infringement. One of the reasons that I can think of is that sometimes the organizers of these conferences require the researchers to assign the copyright in favor of them and thus, if this would have been the case here, then asserting right only as an author would have made sense. However, if we look at the brochure of the conference, then we can see that no such conditions were imposed in the present case. Therefore, it is a little confusing to see why no claims were made under Sections 51 and 63.

Furthermore, the order is also silent on the court’s assessment of the balance of convenience and irreparable injury in favor of the plaintiff. The matter has now been listed for August 31 and it would be interesting to see what the defendants have to say on these allegations. Regardless of the court proceedings, from the looks of it, it seems like the impugned work seems to have been removed from the website of the journal and the hyperlink now shows a “404 error” instead.

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