India: Assessing The Assignment Of Copyright: Injunction Denied To Jaypee

Last Updated: 15 December 2008

Assignment of Copyright is a vital aspect to be considered while deciding the infringement of a copyright. The due assignment of the same may lead to the alteration of a party' standing in the Court. Discussing the viability of an assignment is the case of Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers (P) Ltd. v. Dr. Ramya Raghu & Ors. 2008 (38) PTC 212 (Del.), whereby the nature of an agreement was examined amounting to an assignment or not, specifically in purview of specialized subjects.

Jaypee Brothers instituted the suit for declaration as the owner of copyright in a book, authored by Dr. Ramya Raghu and co-authored with a co-defendant. The claimant publishers are also the defendants by reason and Dr. Ramya had assigned copyright therein to Jaypee even before the book had come into existence. She took the plea that such assignment had taken effect on the book coming into existence. Jaypee also prayed for consequential relief of injunction restraining the Dr. R for damages e amya and co-defendants from distributing, selling or in any manner exploiting the said book and tc. the defendants were restrained from selling, distributing or exploiting the book.

An ex parte order which had been passed was modified permitting Dr, Ramya and co-parties to go ahead with the sale of the book, subject to the maintenance of accounts. An appeal to the Division Bench had been preferred and the ex parte injunction was restored until the disposal of the applications.

Jaypee based its case on the plea of assignment of copyright in a future work by Dr. Ramya and they consequently being the owner of the copyright on the work coming into existence. Jaypee claims Dr. Ramya to be in infringement of their copyright, while not suing for specific performance of the agreement with Dr. Ramya or for preventing breach of the same, save with respect to the assignment of copyright as aforesaid.

Dr. Ramya contested the suit denying the assignment of copyright in favour of Jaypee and contended that the agreement between the two was at best an agreement between the author and a publisher and which agreement by its very nature was not specifically enforceable. They also contended that the agreement of assignment was devoid of any consideration, acted as a restraint of trade and the contract if any stood abandoned by Jaypee and hence void. The grounds of irreparable loss and balance of convenience were also addressed.

The Court opined that for Jaypee to successfully acquire a declaration that the copyright stood assigned to them, they had to make out a prima facie case of assignment of copyright. The court noted that Jaypee being engaged in the business of publishing, distribution and sale of medical books had opened up new opportunities to previously unknown academics and other professionals in the field of medicine by encouraging them to author books in the field of medicine and furthered all endeavors in the regard. Further, in the event of a written document between the parties, the Court noted that the clauses thereof were relevant to determine whether the same is an assignment of copyright or a publishing agreement was existent.

It was stated that prior to the signing of the agreement, Dr. Ramya had endorsed a Manuscript Information Questionnaire which included her particulars as in regard to the book. The questionnaire was filled in an author' meet and Jaypee therein also sought information on the ways to boost the sales of the book, on the standardized format. The Court noted that besides the language, the existence of the agreement had a bearing. The Court further opined that, it was not as if there was any discussion between Jaypee and Dr. Ramya as to whether she was to assign her copyright to merely publish the book to be written by her and that no such discussion or negotiation had been pleaded. On examining the nature of the document, the Court stated that it is difficult to construe the agreement between the parties as an agreement of assignment.

Dr. Ramya in the course of proceedings also declared that the book was co-authored by three-four people other than her and that Jaypee did not deem it necessary to make any further inquiries to have the agreement signed from the other co-authors also and that no assignment was made without the signatures of all the co-authors.

Arguments were made with respect to the index, format and content of the book and the Judge stated that in specialized fields during the assignment of copyright in a future work, the author cannot be heard to say that the work which has been produced is different from the work with respect to which the agreement was entered into. He stated that the Assignment of copyright could not be defeated on such pleas and that the description of the work at the time of entering into the agreement could not be precise, but must be general inasmuch as then the concept, format and contents are all in the mind of the author. The Court also noted that a variance would exist in cases where the work had been conceived or was in the process of producing the work. The Court stated that on the plea of Dr. Ramya regarding the agreement being devoid of consideration or having been abandoned or having expired, the Court stated that having found the agreement between the parties to be of an author and not of an assignment of copyright, it was not necessary to deal with the argument.

On the count of irreparable loss and injury and balance of convenience, the Court found that Jaypee was not entitled to sustain the injunction. Taking note of the fact that the book authored by the Dr. Ramya is ready and has been published, the Court stated that the plea of Jaypee for an interim injunction was liable to be dismissed.

© Lex Orbis 2008

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