What amounts to infringement of a copyright in a cinematograph film has always been a matter of debate. Whilst the right holders are trying their level best to safeguard their intellectual property rights, the Judiciary has been doing its bit of interpreting the Physical Copy Doctrine in relation to the copyright in cinematograph films. The Delhi High Court in its Judgment held that that making a copy of the film was not only confined to making a physical copy of the film by a process of duplication, but the same also included a substantial, fundamental, essential and material reproduction of the original. The suit was filed by MRF Limited (Plaintiff) as a result of non-action of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) despite the dismissal of the Metro Tyres Limited's (Defendant) suit No. 1484/2016 titled as Metro Tyres Ltd. vs. The Advertising Standards Council of India & Anr. which was filed by the Defendant in order to restrain the Plaintiff from issuing groundless threats to the Defendant and to restrain the ASCI from proceeding with the said complaint filed by the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff produced an audio-visual advertisement titled 'MRF NV Series present REVZ' (Plaintiff's advertisement) which was first aired in TV media on June 27, 2015 and then posted on the internet on June 29, 2015 on www.youtube.com. Thereafter the same was aired on forty-one television channels. In October, 2016, the Plaintiff came to know that the Defendant had produced a similar advertisement titled 'Bazooka Radial Tyres' (the Defendant's advertisement). The pertinent issue herein was that upon a bare perusal of the two advertisements, it was evident that the Defendant's advertisement was nothing but a substantial and material copy of the Plaintiff's advertisement, whereby the Plaintiff's copyright in its advertisement was being infringed.
The Hon'ble Court referring to the copyright infringement test laid down in R.G. Anand v. M/s Deluxe Films and Ors. (1978) 4 SCC 118 in respect to literary works was of the view that the same would be applicable to cinematograph films too as the scope of protection of a film was at par with other original work which would not be only confined to the literary work.
Relying on the aforesaid case read with the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act, 1857 (Act), following findings were made by the Hon'ble Court:
- Cinematograph is an independent work and the copyright vests separately and independently in the composite whole i.e. the film- In view of Sections 2(y) (2(f), 13(1) and 13 (4) of the Act read with the Copyright Bill, 1955, it was concluded that copyright subsists in a cinematograph film as a work independent of underlying works that come together to constitute it. As such, the copyright vests separately and independently in the composite whole - the film and not only in its constituent parts.
- A film is recognized as being more than just the sum of its parts- Most of the techniques used in films are protected under Patent law; however, a cinematograph film is greater than the sum of its component parts and enjoys the full protection under copyright law as other works.
- The Expression-To make a copy of the film under section 14(d)(i) does not only imply to make a physical copy of the film by a process of duplication- The Copyright Act is to be read as a whole and be appreciated. Even though Section 14(d) of the Act states that the infringement of copyright in a film takes place by its copying, the Court was of the view that making a copy of the film was not only confined to making a physical copy of the film by a process of duplication, but the same also referred to another film that substantially, fundamentally, essentially and materially resembles/reproduces the original film. As such, the fundamental /essential/distinctive features and the substance of both the advertisements of the respective parties would have to be compared to reach any conclusion.
- It is a settled law that where India is a party to an international treaty, the statute would be given a ―purposive construction in favour of the treaty. To achieve a uniform international code of law, the Copyright Act is required to be interpreted in consonance with the Berne convention which states that a cinematographic work is to be protected as an original work and that the owner of copyright in a cinematographic work shall enjoy the same rights as the author of an original work.
In view of the above, the Hon'ble Court was of the opinion that the two advertisements were neither substantially nor materially or essentially similar. The Hon'ble Court held that Plaintiff's advertisement was more futuristic in comparison to the Defendant's advertisement and that the expression behind both advertisements was different. Moreover, as the present suit had been filed more than one year after the Defendant's advertisement had been first aired i.e. in September, 2016, the Hon'ble Court was of the view that the Plaintiff was not entitled to any interim order. Consequently, the application for injunction was dismissed without any order as to costs.
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