In the Supreme Court of India Citation: AIR 1978 SC 1613 Petitioner R.G. Anand Respondents M/S Delux Flims & Ors. Date of Judgement 18th August, 1978 Bench Hon’ble Justice S. Murtaza Fazal Ali; Hon’ble Justice Jaswant Singh; Hon’ble Justice R.S. Pathak
The infringement of the copyright of an owner by another party is always a burning issue, especially when both works are related to a common plot and common source. The test to determine what constitutes infringement or was not laid down in India before this judgment. Hence, the case of R.G. Anand v. M/s Delux Films and others [i] becomes important as this case laid down the test to decide whether the work in question is a copy of the original work as claimed by the plaintiff. This judgment came as a landmark decision which clarified that copyright is not available to the mere idea but the expression of thoughts/idea etc.
In India, there was no law laid down regarding the test to constitute infringement. When the cause of action arose in this case, the parliament had not enacted the Copyrights Act, 1957 hence the Supreme Court has to rely upon the International Jurisprudence to decide the case.
The Supreme Court relied upon International case laws, authors, etc. to decide the matter at hand. Author Horace G Ball in his book ‘The Law of Copyright and Literary Property [ii] states that, “In an action for the alleged infringement of the copyright of a play by a motion picture, wherein it appeared that both authors had used life in a boys’ reform school as a background, but the only similarity between the two productions consisted to a few incidents and points in dialogue, such as one would expect to find in stories set against the same background, there was no infringement of copyright.” If there are similarities in the original work and the work in question, this would definitely lead to the infringement of copyright,[iii] the similarities should be substantial.[iv]
Statutory Provisions Discussed:
- Section 1(2) (d) of Copyright Act, 1911 (British),
- Section 2 of Copyright Act, 1911 (British).
Facts of the Case:
The appellants have first approached the trial court in Delhi alleging the infringement of the Copyright in their play named ‘Hum Hindustani’ by the respondents in their motion picture named ‘New Delhi’. The District Judge, Delhi dismissed the appellant’s suit by holding that there is no infringement of copyright as both the works are quite different. The appellants approached Delhi High Court to get the order of District Judge set aside but the Hon’ble High Court also confirmed the order of District Judge. Then appellants filed a Special Leave Petition before Hon’ble Supreme against the order of Delhi High Court.
The Appellant is an architect and playwright by profession, the Respondent is a film producing company. The Appellant has written a play called ‘Hum Hindustani’ in the year 1953, which was enacted in the year 1954 in New Delhi. The play was so successful that it was re-staged in the years 1954, 1955 and 1956 at Calcutta. The Appellant wanted to get the play filmed since it was very successful. The Respondent came to know of the intention of the Appellant and they both met in New Delhi to discuss the possibility of listening to it. The Appellant explained the entire play to the Respondent, but the Respondent did not make any commitment regarding filming it. The Respondent made a movie called ‘New Delhi’ which was released in the year 1956. The Appellant saw the movie and he felt that the Respondents have copied the play and made a movie on it without his permission. The Appellant then filed a case before District Judge, Delhi. The Appellants claimed before the court that both the movie and play were based on the same idea i.e. ‘Provincialism’ and they both bear striking similarities. However, the District Judge after the arguments and rejected the Appellant’s claim.
1. Whether the film ‘New Delhi’ is an infringement of the copyright of play name ‘Hum Hindustani’?
2. Whether Respondents-Defendants have infringed the copyright of the Appellants-Plaintiffs by making the movie named ‘New Delhi’?
Arguments by the Appellants-
Mr. Andley for the Appellants argued that the lower courts have not applied the law correctly and their order is against the settled legal principles laid down by Court in England, America and India. The Appellants further argued that the movie is so similar to the play that it leaves an irresistible inference and impression the film is a copy of the play. In order to prove the similarity between the movie and play, Mr. Andley pointed out various similarities such as the common idea of Provincialism, both have two families Punjabi and Madarasi, in both movie and play either one of the lover tried to commit suicide but was saved by some other person, in both movie and play the name of the father of the girl is Subramanium, both the movie and play have their locale in New Delhi, in both movie and play, the girl is fond of music and dance, etc. The Appellants further argued that the Respondent was aware of the play and it was only after listening to the play they decided to make a movie on it without their permission.
Arguments by the Respondents-
Mr. Hardyal Hardy for the Respondents argued that the lower courts have applied the law correctly. He further argued that there is no need for this court to interfere with the findings of the Court of facts. He refuted the claim of the similarities between the play and the movie and contended that the movie and play both have vast dissimilarities in the context of events and spirit.
The Judgment of the court was delivered by Justice Fazal Ali. The court held that similarities between play and movie were not vast even though they both might be based on the idea of ‘Provincialism’ but they both are very different. The play only shows one side of ‘Provincialism’ during the marriage but the movie shows other sides also like ‘Provincialism’ during renting outhouses. The movie also shows the evil of dowry which the play doesn’t depict. The Appellants claim was rejected by Court because the Court held that there may be certain similarities because the idea in both movie and play is the same but it is well-settled law that an idea cannot be copyrighted and the Court relied upon N.T. Raghunathan& Anr. v. All India Reporter Ltd., Bombay.[v] The Court held that if an ordinary person would see the play and the movie he wouldn’t deem it to be a copy of the play. There are vast differences between the play and movie and hence the Appellants claim that their copyright is infringed cannot sustain. The Court upheld the Judgment of the Delhi High Court. Thus, the Court decided both the issues in favor of the Respondents and held that there is no infringement.
- The Court held that there is no copyright in idea or plot but it is the way, arrangement or expression of such an idea that can be copyrighted.
- If the source of the works is common, then some similarities are bound to be there but the Court has to see whether such similarities are substantial to constitute infringement or not.
- If an ordinary person after seeing the work in question calls it a copy or replica of the original work then it is infringement.
- The theme can be the same but it has to be represented differently so that it constitutes new original work.
- If dissimilarities are more than the similarities, it shows the negative intention to copy.
- If there is clear evidence to show piracy then the violation of copyright amounts to an act of piracy.
Justice Fazal Ali also said that the cases where the plaintiff who is the writer of the play has to prove infringement of his copyright against a movie, it becomes very difficult for the playwright. Because a movie can express wider concepts, ideas than the play. But if after viewing both the play and the movie, it gives the impression that the movie is a copy of the play then it constitutes infringement.
Justice Pathak said that there is a possibility that a person who is taking the advantage of Copyrighted work can cover wider concepts and make some changes here and there in the theme to show dissimilarities from the original work and in this way he can evade the disguise of the plagiarism. Justice Pathak also said that if the facts of the present case would have been reopened before this Court, he might have differed from the view of the High Court. But since the Courts of Fact i.e. District Judge and High Court both have rejected the claim of the Appellant, this Court would not unnecessarily interfere with their decision.
The decision of the Court, in this case, is a landmark in the field of Copyright. The guidelines laid down by the Court in this case still hold good and are followed by the Courts in India. This case holds that copyright does not subsist in and idea. Even Section 13 of the Copyright Act, 1957 lays down 3 categories in which copyright can subsist. All 3 categories are of works and an idea does not form part of it. This decision was relied upon by Bombay High Court in MansoobHaider v. Yashraj Films.[vi] This case was the first in India by the Supreme Court to decide what constitutes infringement in copyright.
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i]R.G. Anand v. M/s Delux Films and others, AIR 1978 SC 1613.
[ii] Horace G Ball, The Law of Copyright and Literary Property, 364, (1944), M. Bender & Co., New Jersey, USA.
[iii] Harman Pictures N.V. v. Osborne & Ors., (1967) 1 WLR 723.
[iv] Sheldon v. Metro-Golden Pictures Corporation, 81 F 2d 40; S.K. Dutt v. Law Book Co. &Ors., AIR 1954 All 570.
[v]N.T. Raghunathan& Anr. v. All India Reporter Ltd., Bombay, AIR 1971 Bom 48.
[vi]MansoobHaider v. Yashraj Films, (2014) 59 PTC 292 (Bom).