Copyright infringement in the matter of Shivani Tibrewala v/s Rajat Mukherjee

PARTIES

Plaintiff: Shivani Tibrewala

Defendant: Rajat Mukherjee, Welcome Friends Productions LLP, Rohit Sehtia, Amrit Sethia, S.O.I.E. Ginza Industries Ltd.

BRIEF FACTS

The Plaintiff has filed the present infringement of copyright suit against the Defendant alleging that the Defendant’s cinematographic work named “Umeed” is a substantial reproduction or altered copy of the Plaintiff’s script of the play “The Laboratory”.

The theme of both the work in question is of unethical drug testing and the malpractices followed by large pharmaceutical corporations, where harmful drugs are tested on poor and needy individuals without obtaining their informed consent.

The Plaintiff’s work depicts a story of a young girl (named Joy) aspiring to be a doctor, having a drunkard father and a troubled background. Due to strained financial conditions of the family the protagonist’s mother approaches her brother in law, who is a CEO of a leading pharmaceutical company for help. He subjects her to clinical trials for money resulting her death. Joy subsequently comes to know about the illegal clinical trial her mother was subjected to and therefore sues her uncle and finally overcoming all the hurdles coming by wins the case.

The Defendant’s work depicts story of two sisters coming to the city of dreams (Bombay). The protagonist becomes a beauty contest winner and consequently makes a number of social appearances, by way of which she provides medical relief to the people. There are other supporting characters in the story like Miss Eliza, Dr Bali, Dr Nisha etc, whose persistent scrutiny of malpractices of the pharmaceutical companies exposes the practice of these companies using the protagonist as a medium to experiment and conduct illegal clinical trials on poor. On coming to know the true agenda, the protagonist along with her sister and another character decides to battle against the company.

ISSUE

Whether the work of Defendant amount to infringement of copyright of Plaintiff’s work.

APPLICABLE RULE

Section 51 of Copyrights Act

ARGUMENTS

The Plaintiff advanced the following arguments:

  • Firstly, that the story depicted in the Defendant’s work resembles substantially with the Plaintiff’s work.
  • That the Plaintiff need not prove that the entire work of the Plaintiff is copied but it is sufficient if it is proved that there is substantial copying.
  • That the burden of proof is on the Defendant to show the common sources which is alleged to be available in the market and that the Defendant in fact utilised the information in these sources.
  • That the work of the Plaintiff is original and therefore the Plaintiff is entitled for protection of its copyright.

The Defendant advanced the following arguments:

  • That though both the stories are based on the common theme, the treatment of the sensitive issue addressed, is very different.
  • That there is a stark difference in both the stories in question: The Defendant’s work does not involve an element of revenge on the part of the protagonist; and listed other crucial points of differences.
  • That the similarities drawn by the Plaintiff are non-existent and, in any case, do not constitute an infringement of copyright as the same relate to scenes commonly occurring in films especially of the nature authored by the Defendants.
  • That there is no proof for the fact that the Defendants had access to the Plaintiff’s works.
  • That the main point of consideration is the treatment of the subject or theme addressed in the work and the manner in which the idea is expressed, not the idea itself.

DECISION

The court, relying on the principles laid down in R.G. Anand v/s. Delux Films, held that the work of the Defendant does not amount to infringement of copyright of Plaintiff. The decision was based on the following reasons:

  • Firstly, prima facie there is no substantial similarities in the protectable elements of the works in question.
  • Secondly, that there cannot be a monopoly on a theme of illegal drug trial or big pharmaceutical companies indulging in it.
  • That the Defendants have prima facie proved that their work is original and has been independently arrived at.

Author: Harleen Sethi, LLM (Intellectual Property and Technology Laws) Student at National University of Singapore, an intern at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys. In case of any queries please contact/write back to us at aishani@khuranaandkhurana.com.

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