The recently released film Jug Jug Jiyo made the headlines even before its release due to a Court case. One Writer Mr. Vishal Singh filed a lawsuit against Dharma Productions and others, citing copyright infringement. Mr. Singh had shared a 3/4th of a page story titled ‘Bunny Rani’ with Dharma Productions in the year 2020. As per the plaintiff, the Production House copied the story and made this film based on the story. He filed the case against Dharma Production, Viacom Media, Karan Johar, and others in Commercial Court, Ranchi to stay the film under Section 151 of CPC. The Court dismissed the petition and allowed the release of the film. Naturally, there were disappointing reactions from the writers’ community. As a Media Entertainment enthusiastic lawyer, I could not resist reading the judgment and understanding the reasoning of the Court. Here, I shall be elaborating on the Court's reasoning and my quick view on the same in this article. I hope it shall clear the queries of my readers.
As per the Court, this case was filed by the plaintiff based on his less than one-page story 'Bunny Rani' registered with the Screenwriter's Association and subsequent production of the Film' Jug Jugg Jiyo.' The plaintiff has come up with the case just after seeing the trailer of the film 'Jug Jugg Jiyo.' The Court held that no person could conclude the similarity merely based on a one-page story with the few minutes trailer of the film. The film, as has been stated on behalf of the defendants, is of about 150 minutes. So admittedly, the 150 minutes story and picturization, compared with less than one-page story, will not be proper.
This reasoning of the Court is not very convincing. The Court did not analyze the similarities between the trailer of the film & the story of the Complainant. The Court did not examine whether the story shared by the plaintiff was a copyrighted work or merely an idea or genetic plot? Whether the trailer (that capsulate the film's core story) and the story have substantial similarities? Without this analysis, how can the Court conclude that one cannot conclude the similarities between a film and a one-page story? Will not such blanket presumption be unfair to the thousands of writers who pitch their brief stories to production houses daily? Previously, in the case of Shamil Ahmad Khan v. Falguni Shah [2020 (3) ABR 541], the Bombay High Court had held the copyright infringement of a story by comparing the story with a web series by applying a test of abstraction. I have analyzed the previous article's abstract test of the Shamoil Ahmad Khan case. A similar test should be used in this case or cases like this. Otherwise, it appears to be an unfair precedent that a one-pager story is not copyrighted. In my opinion, the emphasis should not be on the length of the story but the substance and unique elements of the same.
Another reason to dismiss the petition was the balance of convenience. The Court noted that the defendants had spent a considerable amount on the movie's production, and third-party rights have also been created for those who are not a party here. Defendant argued that the plaintiff had quantified the loss/damages in his claim to be Rs. 1.5 crores, it cannot be stated to be an irreparable loss. So, considering the amount spent by the defendants on the production and the plaintiff's claim for loss or damages, the balance of convenience still lies with the defendants. Balance of convenience means which party shall suffer the more significant harm if the injunction is allowed. The answer is the Production house as they have spent the crores of money. Hence, Court dismissed the stay application in favor of Defendant.
Understandably, the crores of money of the production house are at stake. However, is that due to the fault of the Writer? Can spending crores may be a defense for copyright infringement? Had the Writer delayed approaching Court and deliberately approached the Court in the 11th hour? The Court must delve into these issues as well. If the Writer has been prudent in approaching Court, then Court must settle the primary issue of the copyright infringement before the scheduled release of the film. However, analyzing the trend of the recent judgments in similar cases, it is challenging to get and stay on the film's release. The expenditure of the Production house generally supersedes the pain of the Writer! Hence, after the film's release, an author is left with a long and painful battle for compensation.
So, what is the way forward for the Writers? I have always suggested the Writer should avoid sharing short/plot-level work. Sharing such work gives away your USP in exchange for fragile legal production. You should consult your lawyer before pitching your work to understand legal protection at a particular stage. Secondly, if you have shared your detailed work and come across an incident of copyright infringement (with a point of contact), you must immediately approach Court with sufficient time. Being conscious and prudent shall reduce but not negate the risk. The paradox of striking a balance between the author's pain and the producer's expense will jug-jug jiyo until a significant legal/judicial reform exists!