India: Case Study: Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited v. Sony Pictures Networks India Private Limited" : Copyright Protection With Respect To Reality T.V. Shows

Last Updated: 4 January 2019
Article by Purnashri Das
Most Read Contributor in India, January 2019


Copyright Law in India is governed by the Copyright Act, 1957. Section 13 of the Act defines the scope of existence of copyright by listing those works in which copyright subsists. Section 14 defines the meaning of copyright and describes the exclusive rights given to the author of the work. This Article analyses Copyright Protection for Format Ideas in Reality Television Programmes through case laws in India and other countries. Fully scripted half-hour dramas have become increasingly costly, with diminishing TRPs. It therefore is not surprising that the reality television genre has become so popular in recent times.

While hit shows can generate high revenues, they also are easily copied, forcing producers to try to protect their creative investments through resort to the courts. The most significant of these lawsuits assert intellectual property rights, concentrating on allegations of idea and format theft.1 "Zee Entertainment Enterprises limited v. Sony Pictures Networks India Private limited and Ors"2 also deals with a  similar issue that whether Plaintiff's popular show "India's Best Dramebaaz", a televised talent hunt for child actors in 5-12 year age group has been illicitly copied by Defendant, and hence, infringed Plaintiff's Copyright in its concept note?


1)  On Originality- A talent hunt requires eliminations from a larger pool and selection of a winner from a larger crowd. There has to be some process of auditioning. It is difficult to conceive of any talent hunt that goes about its stated business in any other fashion. There cannot, therefore, be exclusivity in this. Fact that both shows feature children, they seek out children with acting talent from different cities, and fact that they seek out best of these is hardly something in which anyone can claim any Copyright.

2) Defendant programme not infringed Plaintiff programme– In this industry, it is common to use this document called a 'concept note'. It sets out the thematic structure, unique elements and so on. There is no doubt that copyright can vest in an original concept note as original literary work.3 These are not just ideas. These are particularized expressions of ideas. But this is not to suggest that every page of a concept note enjoys the same level of protection. In a field as crowded as this there bound to be common elements and a plaintiff claiming copyright in some aspect of a show such as this will not get copyright in those matters that are undeniably in the public domain. It is not possible to accept that there can be any such monopoly in the concept of a talent hunt for children.

In the present case granting copyright protection to plaintiff would mean granting protection to an idea which is not the objective of grant of Copyright. We can understand this by applying different doctrines to understand the judgement in this case.


The idea-expression dichotomy was formulated to ensure that the manifestation of an idea (i.e. an expression) is protected rather than the idea itself.4 An idea is the formulation of thought on a particular subject whereas an expression constitutes the implementation of the said idea.

In the present case we can say copyright does not extend to the idea and the idea is selecting child actors through reality shows.  Anyone can express this idea. There cannot be monopoly to seek out children with acting talent, therefore the plaintiff failed in its case.


The idea and expression are intrinsically connected. The expression is no longer copyrightable because granting copyright over the expression will effectively confer the owner with a monopoly over the idea itself. Applying this doctrine courts have refused to protect the expression of an idea that can be expressed only in one manner, or in a very restricted manner.5

In the present case under discussion there is one idea that is of selecting child actors through reality shows and the way to express this idea has very limited scope. If both shows of plaintiff and defendant are on the same theme of seeking child actors then both shows will contain child actors, will have judges and selection of child actors will be done from different cities. There is no other way to do these.


One may also contemplate instances where the expression of an idea cannot be made without the use of certain elements. The Courts consider these essential elements as non-copyrightable since protecting these will lead to the protection of the idea. Such essential elements are referred to as Scenes A Faire. Similarly, scènes à faire, sequences of events that necessarily result from the choice of a setting or situation, do not enjoy copyright protection."6

In the present case as already said there are some elements which are non copyrightable  as selecting child actors and then declaring from among them a winner, these are sequences of events that necessarily result from the setting of the reality show seeking child actors.


In the case "Milano v. NBC Universal, Inc."  7, the court granted judgment in favour of defendant. Court held the similarities were in elements that were not protectable. The similarities between the two works were the generic idea of a weight loss show and the Scenes A Faire (expressions that are standard or common to a particular topic) that flowed from that idea, none of which were protectable.

In a reality format case Fox Family Properties Inc. v. CBS Inc.8, the court found that most of the elements, such as camera crews following contestants, running for 13 episodes, air dates and titles, were not entitled for protection.


The most famous case for reality show and infringement is "Anil Gupta v. Kunal Gupta and Ors."  9, where the plaintiff, conceived an idea of producing a reality television show containing the process of match making calling it "Swayamvar". It was held that defendant could not reap the fruits of labour put in by the plaintiff. Defendant show based on concept of spouse selection in any form as a reality TV show cannot be permitted as that has been conceived by the plaintiff at the first instance."It was also held that the idea per se had no copyright, but in case the same was developed into a concept fledged with adequate details, the same could be registered under the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957. Further in case the confidential information was used with certain variations, the same would amount to violation of copyright under section 51 and 55 of the Act.

To conclude, it cannot be denied that concept notes that are submitted by individuals need to be given protection in order to encourage ordinary people to communicate their ideas and see their fruition into TV programs. But mere generic idea which is in public domain cannot be grant copyright protection.  The difference between "Zee case" and "Anil Gupta case" is that zee was claiming copyright over something where sufficient skill and judgment was not applied but in the "Swayamvar" case some unique idea was conceived for the first time which was also reduced into writing with adequate details for which sufficient labour and skill was applied in the concept note which was not the case with Zee. It is held that if sufficient skill and judgment applied then copyright protection is granted.10




3 Section 2(o) of Copyright Act, 1957 defines Literary work.

4 R.G. Anand v M/s Delux Films & OthersAIR 1978 SC 1613

5 The Chancellors Masters and scholars of the University of Oxford v. Narendra Publishing House and Ors,2008 (38) PTC 385 (Del)

6 Ibid

7 584 F. Supp.2d 1288(2008)

8 663 F.3d 122(3d Cir. 2011)

9 97(2002)DLT257

10 Eastern book company v. D.B.Modak(2008) 1 SCC 1

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions