As a popular saying goes, first impression is the last
impression - when it comes to movies what better for a first
impression than a striking title. A title that is catchy and unique
finds an instant place in the minds of the audience. Thus, it is
one of the vital assets of the movie, which racks up the attention
of the public. This has invariably become a subject matter of
dispute in the entertainment industry.
The customary practice followed by the majority of film
producers is registering the plot and title with the film
associations functioning as registered societies such as The Indian
Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPPA); the Film and
Television Producers' Guild of India or the Association of
Motion Pictures and Television Programme Producers (AMPTPP).
Although this ensures protection of the movie plot, it does not
safeguard the title of the movie from being used by another
Recently, in Krishika Lulla and Ors. vs. Shyam Vithalrao
Devkutta and Ors., the Supreme Court held that copyrights do
not subsist in the titles of literary works, including movies.
Protection for the same can be granted only by trademarks. The
factual matrix of the case is as such- the respondents claimed
having written a synopsis with the title 'Desi Boys' which
was circulated via email to two other persons. After the movie
'Desi Boyz' released, the respondents bought a suit against
the appellants for copyright infringement. The issue before the
Court was whether the respondents had a copyright in the title of
the movie. The Court laid down that as per Section 13 of the
Copyright Act, 1957, titles cannot be considered as
'works' for the purpose of copyrights.
In various instances, filmmakers use the names of old
blockbuster movie to ride on its popularity and goodwill. The case
of Sholay Media and Entertainment Pvt Ltd. v. Parag M. Sanghavi, is
an important decision in this regard. The Court granted trademark
protection for title of the famous 1975 movie 'Sholay'
along with the names of character 'Gabbar' and 'Gabbar
Singh'. These trademark protections led to the change of title
of 'Ram Gopal Verma ki Sholay' to 'Ram Gopal Verma ki
Aag'. It was stated that since 'Sholay' had acquired
the cult status amongst movies, the defendants were refrained from
using trademarks that were identical or deceptively similar to that
of the plaintiffs.
As per the Nice Classification of trademarks that is followed in
India, movie titles may be registered as a service mark under class
41 of Schedule 4 of the Indian Trademarks Act, 1999. Film
titles can be demarcated in two categories viz. titles of a series
of movies, for instance the 'Dhoom & Dhoom 2' series
and title of a single movie. For the latter, it must be established
that the title has acquired a reputation and a secondary meaning
amongst the public at large. Secondary meaning simply means that an
average movie goer associates the title to the filmmaker,
production house, etc. and there would be a likelihood of confusion
in the mind of such person if the title is used by another person
for a different film.
Copyright protects the expression of an idea but a mere idea
cannot be covered under the Copyright Act. Titles of books, songs,
movies and other copyrightable works although appear to be
protectable under copyright given their nature of works; yet are
not due to the lack of requisite creativity. Moreover, copyrights
protect the integrity of creative works of authorship, and titles
do not warrant such a protection. This has now gained a status of a
settled principle of jurisprudence under the Indian Law.
 Section 13- Works in which
copyright subsists.- (1) Subject to the provisions of this section
and the other provisions of this Act, copyright shall subsist
throughout India in the following classes of works, that is to
(a) original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic
(b) cinematograph films; and
(c) sound recording.
(2) Copyright shall not subsist in any work specified in
sub-section (1), other than a work to which the provisions of
section 40 or section 41 apply, unless,-
(i) in the case of a published work, the work is first
published in India, or where the work is first published outside
India, the author is at the date of such publication, or in a case
where the author was dead at that date, was at the time of his
death, a citizen of India;
(ii) in the case of an unpublished work other than work of
architecture, the author is at the date of the making of the work a
citizen of India or domiciled in India; and
(iii) in the case of a work of architecture, the work is
located in India.
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general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be
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