This article is written by Bhumika Dandona from the School of Law, Sushant University (erstwhile Ansal University), Gurgaon. In this article, she critically analyses the case of R.G. Anand v. Delux Films and Ors. The author further provides an overview of the comparative analysis of the Copyright laws in India and the USA.
Copyright is a legal entitlement available to the person or the company who is the sole creator of a particular product or item. It protects them against those who try to copy their endurance. But the real problem ensues when this right is subject to a breach by many. Breaching the copyright of another is an issue that has been lingering around for a long time. Earlier, many difficulties came to light while determining what exactly constitutes a breach of the copyright. But with the Supreme Court’s judgment in the landmark case of R.G. Anand v. M/S Delux Films and Ors. (1979), it has now become much easier to decipher this problem. This article proceeds with giving out a critical analysis of the case law. It further provides an overview of the comparative analysis of the copyright laws in India and the USA.
Facts of the case
- ‘Hum Hindustani’ was a play written by Mr. R.G. Anand, the appellant, and an architect by profession, in 1953. It was a hit amongst the masses when performed the first time and was re-performed in the subsequent years. This success got the appellant thinking about turning the play into a film. The respondent, a film producing company, somehow came to know of the appellant’s intent and approached him to take things forward in this respect. However, even after a brief discussion in 1955, the respondent did not revert to the appellant on the same.
- The appellant got wind that the respondent was making a film titled ‘New Delhi’, which he believed was an imitation of his famous play Hum Hindustani. When he pulled up the respondent about it, the latter assured him that the film was not in any way a copy of his theatrical stage show and he need not worry about it. But when the appellant watched it after the release in 1956, the film managed to convince him that it was indeed a copy of his stage show.
- Inevitably, the appellant filed a suit of permanent injunction in the Trial Court in Delhi. He appealed that the respondent had tried to imitate his work, breaching his copyright, and pleaded for a restraining order against the respondent. But the court refused to grant the same, stating that both the film and the play did not have similarities.
- The appellant then took to the High Court of Delhi, seeking to set aside the order imparted by the Trial Court. But even the High Court refused to entertain his plea, asserting that the Trial Court was correct in its stance. Seeing no other way, the appellant finally approached the Supreme Court by special leave petition under Article-136 of the Indian Constitution, 1949.
The primary issue involved herein was whether the film titled ‘New Delhi’, created by the respondent breaches the appellant’s copyright for the play titled ‘Hum Hindustani’ or not.
Relevant legal provisions
The relevant legal provisions discussed in the case were:-
- Section-1(2)(d) of the Copyright Act, 1911: This section states that copyright means the right to produce, deliver, perform or publish the work or any part of it in public. Sub-clause(d) provides it in the case of any literary, dramatic, or musical work to make any record, perforated roll, cinematographic film, or other contrivance through which the work may be mechanically performed or delivered.
- Section-2 of the Copyright Act, 1911: It lays down several grounds that cause the breach of copyright.
Arguments by the appellant
The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant submitted that the application of the concerned laws by the Trial Court was inappropriate. The court also failed to consider the legal aspects developed by courts in India, England, and the USA regarding the copyright breach. The learned counsel further asserted that the film has an inescapable similarity to the play written by the appellant. The storyline was more or less the same, with the location being the same place as the play. The families involved had similar backgrounds, that of Punjabi and Madrasi, and the leading lady was fond of singing and dancing, just like the one in the play. Lastly, the learned counsel submitted that the respondent tried to copy the stage show, breaching the appellant’s copyright, and made the movie without gaining the permit from the appellant.
Arguments by the respondent
The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent strictly denied the claims made by the appellant. He stated that the film and the play stood far apart from each other. Both of them had different events involved, and their essence varied to a great extent. The learned counsel further asserted that the Trial Court was correct in its evaluation. Thus, there was no question of a breach of the appellant’s copyright.
Judgment of the Court
The Supreme Court stated that even though the film and the play had a foundation based on the idea of provincialism, similarities were negligible. Both of them were very different in their context. There were various plots in the film that were not present in the play. The apex court also stated that an ordinary man would not scan any similarity between the two. Thus, it was held that there was no breach of the appellant’s copyright. The Supreme Court accordingly rejected the appellant’s plea, upholding the Trial Court and the Delhi High Court’s decision.
The Supreme Court laid down the following proposition to determine the breach of copyright:-
- An idea or a plot cannot form a part of the copyright, but what does, is how they are subject to presentation. If the same is such that suggests imitation, it would be equivalent to a breach of copyright.
- If the idea or the plot is the same, the existence of similarities cannot be avoidable. The courts will need to examine if any such similarities could cause a potential breach of someone’s copyright.
- If an ordinary man can point out that there is a replication of someone else’s work, it would amount to a breach of copyright.
- The theme of the work can be identical, but its execution must be different to constitute originality.
- More dissimilarities than similarities will indicate that there was never any intention to copy off someone else’s work.
- If there is any clear evidence that seeks to hint at piracy, then in such a case, the breach of copyright would amount to an act of piracy.
- It is for the appellant to prove that there has been a breach of his copyright.
- The Supreme Court pointed out that where a scriptwriter has to prove that there has been a breach of his copyright against a film, it will be difficult for him to do so. The main reason behind it is that a movie consists of broader concepts and ideas than a play. If only after watching them both, some sameness comes across, then it would be a breach of copyright.
- The court also stated that the possibility of trying to evade plagiarism by covering broader concepts and making few changes here and there could certainly be prevalent. Things might have been different had the facts of the present case were before this court. But because the Trial Court and the Delhi High Court dismissed the appellant’s appeals, the court decided to not intervene with this particular dimension.
An overview of the comparative analysis of Copyright laws in India and the USA
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, copyright is a legal entitlement available to the person or the company who is the sole creator of a particular product or item. It provides them with an exclusive right over their creation. While in the USA, the US Copyright Office, the governmental body that deals with issues relating to the subject matter herein, defines it as a group of rights given to the owners for protection of their work, in India, copyright refers to a collection of rights provided to the owners under Section-14 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957.
Copyright laws in India and the USA have just a few notable similarities within them. To begin with the simplest and usual, both of them have a statutory framework for the subject matter. In America, the Copyright Act, 1976 governs this intellectual property right. In India, regulating it is the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, referred to in the preceding paragraph. The final similarity would be that these two countries have also adopted the principle of ‘originality’, surrendering the protection to the original literary, dramatist, and musical works.
The main differences that eke out an existence within the legislation are that while India does not mandate copyright registration, the USA has made the same compulsory. The US Constitution, in its Article 1, § 8, Clause 8 (also known as the ‘Copyright’ clause), compares the copyright with a patent, unlike any other country. A patent protects the new inventions, in contrast to the copyright.
Also, even though the laws of respective countries provide that copyright can not be absolute, there is a minor distinction between them in this regard that stands out the most out of all others. There is yet another similarity amongst them that copyright can never be absolute. Like anything, it too has some restrictions to its exercise. There are certain exceptions wherein a person can use someone else’s copyright. One of the most significant of such exceptions includes ‘Fair-use’. This terminology means that limited use of a copyright is permissible without obtaining the owner’s consent for the same. For instance, it does not permit the reproduction of the whole of a work, but just extracts or quotations, in a way that it does not appear to steal the owner’s idea.
While the copyright law of the USA uses the ‘Fair-use’, the Indian copyright law uses the ‘Fair-dealing’. The US law gives a four-factor test to examine whether the copyright breach falls within the purview of fair use. It is as follows:-
- What is the purpose and nature of use, whether for commercial or non-profit reasons?
- What is the character of the copyright?
- What is the degree of use of the copyrighted work?
- What is the effect of the use of the same on the potential market?
Whereas, Indian law provides specific acts that amount to fair dealing. The following acts will not be a breach of copyright:-
- Fair dealing with any work for research or private study; criticism or review.
- Fair dealing in newspapers, magazines, or broadcast, photographs, etc.
An analysis of the copyright laws of both countries will push for the one in the USA. It is because of the flexibility it provides to determine what exactly is the breach of copyright. Indian law, on the other hand, gives a more restrictive approach towards the determination of this breach. Hence, the former prevails over the latter in this aspect.
The decision proclaimed by the Supreme Court in the case in question continues to serve as a guiding light in copyright breach cases. To sum this decision up in a single sentence, any idea or a plot does not make up the copyright. Other courts in India follow this proposition or the ‘ratio decidendi’ laid down by the Supreme Court to date. A famous case where one of the High Courts relied upon it was that of Mansoob Haider v. Yashraj Films (2014). The Bombay High Court had held that mere use of commonly used themes, events, etc., does not give any right to the appellant against the defendant’s work. To the further relief of the judicial system, even Section-13 of the Indian Copyright Act provides three classifications within which copyright may exist. What is essential to note from all of them is that they do not mention ideas as a part of this particular intellectual property right.
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