R.G. Anand v. Delux Films and Ors.
AIR 1978 SC 1613
Brief Facts of the Case:
The Appellant, R. G. Anand, was an architect by profession and a playwright, dramatist and producer as well. He had wrote and produced a play called ‘Hum Hindustani’ in 1953 which received huge success and was re-staged numerous times. With the increasing popularity of the play, the second Respondent, Mr. Mohan Sehgal, got in touch with the Appellant.
During the Appellant’s meeting with the second and third Respondents, the Appellant narrated the entire play ‘Hum Hindustani’ to the second and third Respondents. Appellant had elaborate discussions regarding filming the play in January, 1955. However, no further communication was made to the Appellant post the discussion.
Respondents in the month of May 1955 commenced the making of the film ‘New Delhi’, which the Appellant believed to be based on his play. Nevertheless, the Respondents guaranteed him that the movie had no resemblance and was not remotely related to his play. But after watching the movie in September, 1956 the Appellant came to the conclusion that the movie was indeed a copy of his play and consequently filed a suit for permanent injunction seeking a restraint against the Respondents from infringement his Copyright in the play ‘Hum Hindustani’.
The Trial Court along with the High Court decided in favor of the Respondents asserting that the act of the Respondents (of producing/exhibiting the film ‘New Delhi’) is not a copyright infringement. The Appellant preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.
Arguments on behalf of the Appellant:
• The principles laid down and the legal conjectures draw by the trial and High Court are in contrast to the settled principles established by Indian, American and English Courts towards infringement of Copyright.
• The similarities between the play and the movie are so close that an inference can be easily drawn that the movie is indeed an imitation of the play.
• The second and third Defendant were already familiar with the play before directing the movie and it was on the basis of the play they decided to make the movie.
Arguments on behalf of the Respondents:
• The Trial Court as well as High Court applied the law correctly and it is futile to go into the merits of the concurrent findings of the facts established by the two courts.
• There exist a number of dissimilarities between the play and the movie in relation to the spirit and the content and hence there is no infringement of copyright.
• The respondent was undeniably in search of a story based upon the theme of ‘provincialism’ and the play did bestow him with a chance to produce a movie but with different climax, story, theme and characterisation.
Judgment and Observations made by the Court:
The Court after referring to several judicial decisions made the following observations:
A. On the law of infringement of Copyright:
i. There exists no copyright in relation to an idea, subject matter, themes, plots or historical or legendary facts. Infringement is restricted only to the form, manner, arrangement and expression of the idea by the author of the copyright work.
ii. When the author develops and acts upon the same idea it is bound to have a common source and similarities. In such circumstances the Court should settle on whether the similarities are substantial or fundamental in nature or not with respect to the mode of expression adopted in the work. If substantial or fundamental portion has been copied, then it would amount as infringement.
iii. The other reliable test to ascertain whether there is an infringement or not is to analyse the impression created on the spectator or reader subsequent to reading or watching the works. If they believe that the consequent work is an imitation of the original work, it will definitely amount to infringement. (Lay Observer Test)
iv. In case where there is a common theme but the presentation and treatment is dissimilar such that the subsequent work itself becomes a new work, it will not result in violation of copyright.
v. Existence of broad and substantial dissimilarities negates the fact that there was an intention to copy the original work and the similarities will be considered to be merely coincidental.
vi. Cogent and clear evidence along with correct application of the tests discussed above is required to prove that violation of copyright results to an act of piracy.
vii. When the issue relates to the infringement of copyright of stage play done by the producer of a film or Director, it has to be kept in mind that in contrast with a play a film deals with a broader prospective, a larger area and a greater background where the Defendant has the liberty to introduce a multiplicity of incidents in order to give colour and complexion to it making it dissimilar from the way in which the copyrighted work has articulated the idea. Despite this, if the viewer after watching the film gets a general impression that film in general is an imitation of the play, it will amount to violation of the copyright.
B. On the facts of the present case:
• In the present case, the play and the film revolve around the same theme of ‘provincialism’ but it is well established that a mere idea cannot be the subject matter of copyright. The story of the film portrayed two concerns of provincialism that it is firstly the function of provincialism with respect to marriage and secondly in relation to renting out accommodation. Further, it also dealt with issues such as evils of a society dominated by caste and the ills of dowry. The latter two issues have not been dealt in the play at all. Also, the play was restricted only to one aspect of provincialism which is regarding the marriage between people belonging to different states. Thus, in many ways the story and its depiction is quite different from the one in the play.
• It was not a case of violation of copyright. The similarities were trivial and not a ‘substantial’ or ‘material’ copy of the original play and the dissimilarities outweighed the similarities.
• After seeing the play as well as the film no prudent person would conclude or consider the film to be a replica of the original play. If the play and the film is compared closely from scene to scene, circumstance to circumstance and with regards to climax to anti-climax, in consistency, management, purport and representation, the picture is significantly different from the play.
• Hence the present case fails to fulfil the requirements of a colourable limitation of the play and cannot amount to copyright infringement.
Thus, the appeal was dismissed.
Author: Aadhya, National Law University, Odisha