Arun Chadha V. OCA Productions Pvt. Ltd. & Ors.
2013 (53) PTC 401 (DEL)
Facts of the Case:
Plaintiff, was a documentary film-maker of world repute.
In 2007, Plaintiff entered into a contract with a famous author for the assignment of rights in her novel ‘Kasturi Kundal Bassey’ for the production of a TV serial.
The Plaintiff then assigned his rights in the serial to the Department of Adult Education (hereinafter referred to as DAE) of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India in return for funding the production of the serial. This assignment was to come into effect after the completion of the said serial and delivery of the master tapes to the DAE by the Plaintiff.
On completion of the recording, the Plaintiff approached the Defendants for the purpose of editing the serial. After a few months, it came to the knowledge of the plaintiff that a TV serial named ‘Ek Kadam Aur’ has been broadcasted on Doordarshan and its episodes were identical to the Plaintiff’s yet to be broadcasted serial. Plaintiff’s name as the producer and director was substituted by the name of one of the defendants, and the names of the cameraman and editor were also changed. However, the names of the novel, its author and the cast of the serial were not changed. On making enquiries, Plaintiff was told that the Defendants represented to the Doordarshan that they are the producers and owners of the cinematograph film comprising the impugned serial and that they own the exclusive and unencumbered television rights/copyright in the same.
As per the Plaintiff, Defendants committed a tort of breach of trust, misappropriation of property and its conversion, and that such conversion has led to the mutilation and modification of the Plaintiff’s work. Plaintiff sought relief under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.
By virtue of being the original producer of the cinematograph film embodying the serial, Plaintiff is the author of the said cinematograph film work under the Copyright Act, 1957. Although his rights in the serial have been assigned to DAE, he retains his special rights under Section 57 of the Act.
Defendants’ actions amount to infringement of Plaintiff/Author’s special rights enshrined in Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 as the Defendants have not attributed the work to the Plaintiff and have also distorted, mutilated and modified the Plaintiff’s work.
Due to the actions of the Defendants, DAE (which holds the copyright in the impugned work) was adamant on terminating the agreement with him, thereby seriously prejudicing his honour and reputation and future business prospects to deal with any government or other departments. Therefore, Plaintiff is at the risk of losing his credibility and future support from the Government.
The Defendants did not file any evidence.
Judgment and Observations made by the Court:
The author of a work has the right to claim authorship of the work and to restrain or claim damages in respect of any distortion, mutilation, modification or other action in relation to the work, if such distortion, mutilation, modification or other act is prejudicial to his honour or reputation.
The Court appreciated the observation made in the case of Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India; 2005 (30) PTC 253 (Del) that moral rights are available to the authors under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 even after the economic rights are assigned.
As the authorship of the Plaintiff was not disputed here, the Court admitted the position and proceeded to examine whether the actions of the Defendants were an attack on Plaintiff’s honour and reputation. The credentials of the Plaintiff as set out in the plaint were examined and it was held that the Plaintiff indeed is a film-maker of great reputation.
Next, the Court examined whether there has been any ‘modification’ which is prejudicial to the Plaintiff’s reputation. The Court referred to the judgment in the case of Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures; 1987 (7) PTC 87 (Del), to expound what is meant by ‘modification’ and ‘mutilation’. The substance of protection offered in Section 57 is that it prohibits any form of mutilation, distortion or modification. Modification in the sense of perversion amounts to mutilation.
The Court observed that the Defendants sold the Plaintiff’s serial to Doordarshan and its exact reproduction was aired with the changes that the credits appearing in the impugned serial were modified substantially. The name of the serial was changed to ‘Ek Kadam Aur’ from ‘Kasturi Kundal Bassey’. Therefore, the modifications made in the work of the Plaintiff misrepresented the fact that the Defendants are the author of the work. Such misrepresentation amounts to mutilation and is covered within the ambit of Section 57 of the Act.
The Court passed a decree of permanent injunction in favour of the Plaintiff from exhibiting the serials which are identical or substantially similar to Plaintiff’s serial/film works or part thereof. The Defendants were also restrained from distorting, mutilating, modifying or committing any other act which would be prejudicial to Plaintiff’s honour or reputation.
Author: Aadhya, National Law University, Odisha