The title of a work plays a key role in grabbing the attention of the target base, an interesting title of a book or movie may get more takers than a work with a mundane title. It is for this reason that various authors, movie producers tend to seek protection for such titles under copyright Act, 1957 or through Film and Television Producers Guild etc. The Indian Copyright act, 1957 per se does not protect titles or films, books or songs this is particularly so because the title to a work is too short and incapable of being an independent work protectable under the Act. This was reiterated by the Madras High Court in its recent division bench decision in the case of M/s Lyca Productions & Anr. vs. J. Manimaran .
The case was an appeal from a single judge decision, the Plaintiff (J. Manimaran) claimed that he was producing a film bearing the title ‘Karu’ which is a Tamil word for ‘Foetus’. The Plaintiff claimed that he had also registered the title of his work with the Film and Television Producers Guild of South India in 2011. The Plaintiff submitted that simultaneously the Defendant (Lyca Production) was also producing a film titled ‘Lyca’s Karu’. The Defendant submitted that its title was registered with the Tamil Film tProducer Council from 2017. The Plaintiff submitted that it was standard industry practice to obtain registration for titles of work from such Producers guild and since it was the prior registrant of the title ‘Karu’ the Defendant should be injuncted from using a similar title. The single judge had ruled in favor of the Plaintiff. In the appeal the division bench perused section 13 and 16 of the Copyright Act, 1957 and ruled that the Copyright Act did not grant protection to title of a cinematographic work; it protected the work contained therein. Furthermore the decision of the apex court in Krishika Lulla v Shyam VithalraoDevkatta& Anr was also referred to. The Division Bench held that the registration of title of works with film guilds/councils, which were not recognized copyright societies, cannot result in preventing a third party which is not a member of such council, from using the title, since such third party is not bound by the internal rules and regulation of such guild. Furthermore, such guilds were incompetent to administer rights in cinematographic works because they are not registered as copyright societies under the Act.
This decision will have a crucial impact on the film industry because a lot of media houses/producers secure registration in title of their works through registration with such producers guild. Pursuant tothis decision it is evident that film titles may be protectable only if producers that are member of the same guild have a conflict over the title, otherwise a third party is free to select a similar title as an earlier movie without legal consequences for such similar work title.
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