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This article is written by Mahima Chanchalani, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia. In this article, the author discusses the case of R G Anand v. Delux Films in consonance with the concept of substantial similarity and copyrightability of ideas. 


In the article, I will be dealing with the case of R. G. Anand v. Delux Films (1978) and link it with the concept of substantial similarity and copyrightability of ideas. Two important points that must be taken into consideration while evaluating copyright infringement- substantial similarity and copyrightability of ideas. In the article, I have also linked these concepts with comparative advertisement.  I have tried to analyze the concept of copyright infringement in the context of the comparative advertisement. These two concepts are still relevant in today’s world. The infringement of copyright is still decided based on the substantial similarity between the two works.

What can be copyrighted : expressions or ideas?

An idea is a thought that comes in the mind of a person specifying the probable course of action whereas an expression is a process that is adopted by the people in the application of an idea. The ideas are not copyrightable but expressions are copyrightable. Two different people may have the same idea but the way they implement the idea (i.e., expression) can be different.

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It is not the ideas that are copyrighted but expressions, as it will eventually lead to the stoppage of inflow of ideas which is an important aspect of life. The inflow of ideas is necessary to protect the innovation and creativity of people  

Cases related to the copyrightability of ideas      

R. G. Anand v. Delux Films (1978) is a landmark judgment, where the SC held that ideas cannot be copyrighted but the expressions can be copyrighted. The Court pointed out that the origin of the work being common, similarities will be there but the way the ideas are expressed must be different to not constitute copyright infringement. The Court used the terms, “theme or idea or plot or storyline” to determine that mere ideas are not protectable.

The facts of the case of Mansoob Haider v. Yashraj Films (2014)  are similar to the one discussed above. Here, the plaintiff was the owner of the copyright of a script ‘Once’, which he claimed was infringed in the movie ‘Dhoom 3’. He contended that the defendant is liable for copyright infringement as there was substantial similarity between the two works.

The Bombay HC held that ideas cannot be copyrighted. The Court pointed out that whatever part of the work is left after sieving out the dissimilarities is an idea that cannot be copyrighted and similarity of ideas does not attract copyright infringement.

Concept of substantial similarity vis-a-vis copyright infringement

The concept of substantial similarity comes into play in the instance of copyright infringement. The plaintiff must prove that the work of the defendant is substantially similar to his work. This will eventually substantiate if the similarity is reasonable enough to bring action against. The principle of a reasonable man can be used over here. If he after seeing the work against which the action is brought believes that there is substantial similarity, then the copyright of the owner is infringed. A person may be affected by some work, but it must not be substantially similar to that work. It must be expressed in a different way to avoid infringement of the owner’s copyright.

Although the concept of substantial similarity is not defined anywhere in the Copyright act the case laws of copyright infringement have made its use manifest. How do we say that two things are substantially similar? For that, we see if the two things are similar in characteristics, colour, or their traits are similar to establish similarity.

Let us understand the concept of substantial similarity using a dispute that arose between Phone Pe and Bharat Pe. Phone Pe has its trademark registered and is indeed a well-known trademark. Here, we can see that the word Pe is similar in both their names. It is the suffix Pe which is similar in both the app names and so there can be a case of trademark infringement. Here, the concept of substantial similarity is used to establish trademark infringement.

Let us take another example, AMUL and ANUL. The two names are similar, the sound is the same, the spelling is almost similar. Here, we can say that two names are so similar that it is likely to deceive any reasonable man. So, there is an infringement of the trademark of AMUL.

The concept of substantial similarity is found in instances of comparative advertisement. It is a practice which is adopted where a company at the time of advertising its products compares it with the competitor’s product. There are instances when the reference is not directly made in the advertisement but is indirectly implied. So in that instance, we can see if a substantial similarity exists between the two advertisements. If there is considerable similarity, then there is copyright infringement.

Comparative advertisement and product disparagement are two important subjects. At the time of advertisement by a company, they tend to represent their product as better and compare it with some other product, which eventually spreads misconception about that product and lowers the value of that product, which can be termed as product disparagement. 

M/S Britannia Industries Ltd. v. Union of India & Another (2001), this case is related to product disparagement and comparative advertisement. In this case, Unibic India launched a biscuit named ‘Great Day’ and linked a tagline to it- ‘Why have a Good Day, when you have a great Day’. Britannia has the registered trademark ‘Good Day’.

In this case, Unibic India has directly compared their biscuits with Good Day, which is obvious from the tagline. The defendant has disparaged the product of Good Day by saying that Good Day biscuits must not be consumed until their biscuit i.e. Great Day is available in the market. We can see that there is substantial similarity in the name of the two products i.e. Good Day and Great Day.

In the case of Nestle v. Cadbury (2013), Nestle came up with the tagline “Khao bina tareekh dekhe” whereas Cadbury promotes its products with the tagline “Meetha hai khana aaj pehli tareekh hai”. The defendant, in this case, has not specifically mentioned the products of Cadbury but indirectly refers to them. The defendant, Nestle by the use of its tagline implies that one should never take note of what date it is at the time of eating sweets which disparages the products of Cadbury as it says one should eat sweets because it is 1st day of the month. Any reasonable man at the first look would say that there is substantial similarity between the two taglines where the 2 products are compared and hence there is infringement.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright is that intellectual property that protects the original work of the author. The term copyright is defined under Section 14 of the Copyright Act, 1957 as the exclusive right which is given to a person to produce his work in any form he wants, grants copy of his work to the public, make any cinematographic film, make an adaptation of the work, etc

Copyright infringement is defined in Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1956 which arises when:

    • A person does not take the permission of the owner of the copyright and does any act, the right of which rests with the owner.
    • A person copying the work can use the data for communication, selling, distribution, the exhibition of an infringing work unless he was not aware or has no reason to believe that such permission will result in the violation of copyright.
    • A person imports infringing copies of the original work and presents it as his own.
    • A person without taking permission from the owner of the copyright reproduces his work in any form as its replica.  

Copyright infringement arises when someone copies the original work of the author and presents it as his own. It is the use of any work which is copyrighted without taking authorization from the owner of the work. The case of R G Anand v. Delux Films(1978) is a landmark judgment related to copyright infringement and emphasizes the importance of copyright law in India.  

Case analysis


In this case, the plaintiff had written and produced a play called Hum Hindustani which became very popular. The defendant came to know that the plaintiff was thinking of filming the play so he contacted him. He went to the plaintiff who explained the script to him, but he did not respond. After a few days, the plaintiff got to know about a movie ‘New Delhi’ which was based on his play. So, he filed a case against the defendant. He contended that the movie was a replica of the play, and hence the defendant is liable for copyright infringement.

The Court had to decide whether the movie ‘New Delhi’ has infringed the copyright of the play ‘Hum Hindustani’ or not.     

The Courts in this case observed, “The same idea is developed differently, the source being common the similarities are bound to occur.” The Court in the case of R G Anand v. Delux films points out two important points of contentions i.e. copyrightability of the ideas and concept of substantial similarity.


  • Whether the film New Delhi is an infringement of the copyright of the play ‘Hum Hindustani’?
  • Whether the defendants have infringed the copyright of the plaintiff by the making of film New Delhi?

Arguments raised by the appellants

The appellant put forth their argument that the lower court was not successful in applying the law correctly. The plaintiffs also argued that the movie is so similar to the play, that it is obvious that it is a copy of the play. The appellant substantiated their claim by pointing out the similarities between the two like the same idea of provincialism, the location being Delhi, both are based on love stories between a Punjabi and Madrasi, and many more. They also contended that the defendant knew the script of the play and they had discussed it to make a film, but later he made it alone.

Arguments raised by the respondent

The respondents argued that lower courts have interpreted the law correctly. They denied the claim of similarity between play and movie and iterated that there are a lot of dissimilarities between the two. 

Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the context of substantial similarity and expression of ideas 

The Supreme Court issued some guidelines in this case which we will deal further in the article;

  • There can be no copyright infringement in an idea, only expressions are copyrightable.
  • The similarities are bound to occur when the origin of work is the same, but the main motive must be to see whether the similarity is substantial enough to constitute infringement.
  • The Court brought forward the principle of the reasonable man. If he finds the work to be a copy, it will constitute infringement.
  • The idea can be the same but it must be expressed differently to vitiate copyright infringement.

Throughout the article, we have tried to analyze the use of the concept of substantial similarity and copyrightability of ideas in the cases of copyright infringement. These are the most crucial aspects that need to be analyzed to find out if there is any infringement of copyright or not. We must find out if substantial similarity plays a role in how the ideas are expressed. After a detailed analysis, we can conclude that substantial similarity and expression or ideas play a crucial role in establishing copyright infringement.


After analyzing the whole case, we can finally conclude that substantial similarity and copyrightability of ideas are two concepts that are extremely important in the cases of copyright infringement. These concepts play a vital role in the deciding of a case of breach of copyright. Ideas can still not be copyrighted. The concept of substantial similarity is still in use and the test of a reasonable man in specifying if the two works are substantially similar or not still holds good. However, the Courts must define a reasonable man to avoid chaos.


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