21 Sep 2023 3:45 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court recently held that there can be no copyright in the theme of ‘families going to their ancestral village in Konkan during the Ganpati festival’ because in Maharashtra, family members do visit their ancestral places during Ganpati festival.Justice Manish Pitale made this observation while refusing to stay the release of a web series titled “Devak Kalji” in a...
The Bombay High Court recently held that there can be no copyright in the theme of ‘families going to their ancestral village in Konkan during the Ganpati festival’ because in Maharashtra, family members do visit their ancestral places during Ganpati festival.
Justice Manish Pitale made this observation while refusing to stay the release of a web series titled “Devak Kalji” in a copyright infringement suit filed by Navigns Studios Pvt. Ltd. alleging that the producers of the web series copied the plaintiff’s script.
“…the work in which the plaintiff claims copyright and the impugned web-series, both, pertain to the movement of family members towards their ancestral village in Konkan during the Ganpati festival. There can be no copyright in such general theme or central idea, for the reason that in the State of Maharashtra, family members do visit their ancestral places during Ganpati festival”, the court observed.
The plaintiff Navign Studios claimed copyright in a work titled 'Gharat Ganpati'. It claimed that the defendants Sameer Khandekar (actor writer and director of the web series), Vaibhavi Rane (producer), and Dibyalaxmi Maisnam (actor) violated this copyright. Further, Navign Studios alleged that Khandekar breached an artist agreement dated October 22, 2022.
Senior Advocate Ashish Kamat for Navign Studios contended that the central theme of their work, involving a family suffering from discord reconciling during the Ganpati festival in a Konkan village, was copied from their work, which is in the post-production stage and set for release in December 2023.
Kamat further alleged that the defendants directly copied scenes or expressions, such as a character referring to Modak as "Momo" in the context of Ganpati Pooja. He also contended that scenes involving the singing of 'Garahana' during the Ganpati Pooja and a monologue at the end of the web series were copied from the plaintiff’s work.
Kamat also argued that the defendants violated the breached the confidentiality and non-disclosure obligations in the artist agreement. He claimed that Maisnam had a role in the plaintiff's work and also appeared in the impugned web series playing a similar role, committing copyright infringement and breach of confidence.
Advocate Nirman Sharma for the defendants argued that the story for their web series was conceived in July 2022, before the artist agreement and the treatment of characters and the story in the web series were different from the plaintiff's work. Further, the plaintiff could not claim a monopoly on the concept of a family reunion during Ganpati festival, he argued. He pointed out that the defendants had been producing documentaries on this theme since 2001.
The court noted that there can be no copyright in the central idea or theme of a story, and copyright infringement is determined by the similarities in the expression of that idea.
The court watched the four episodes of the impugned web series and observed that the treatment of characters and the story were different in the defendants' web series.
“The detailing of the characters, their inter se dynamics prima facie appear to be different and it cannot be said at this stage that the defendants in the impugned web-series have copied the basic idea and the detailing of the story / creative work of the plaintiff”, the court opined.
The defendants produced an email dated July 21, 2022 containing a document which had the story synopsis, character briefs and detailing of episodes. The court said that there is prima facie material indicating that the story for the web series had been conceived in July 2022, before the artist agreement. “The impugned web-series finally produced by the defendants does have changes in its detailing, but the story appears to be loyal to the document annexed to the aforesaid material”, the court observed.
The court said that the scene involving the performance of Garahana during the Ganpati festival couldn't be considered a clear instance of copying as the defendants’ document from July 2022 also involved family members gathering for Ganpati festivities.
Regarding the scene where "momo" was used to describe modak, the court pointed out that this was related to a character in the web series who hailed from the North East (Manipur) and had been raised in Mumbai, whereas the character in the plaintiff's script was from North India.
Regarding the artist agreement, the court opined that the specific instances highlighted by the plaintiff did not provide proof of a prima facie case of breach of confidence.
The court concluded that the plaintiff did not make a strong prima facie case for copyright infringement and grant of ad-interim reliefs.
Thus, the court rejected an interim application filed by the plaintiff against the release of the web series on YouTube and posted the matter for further consideration on October 25, 2023. The web series was released as scheduled on September 15, 2023.
Senior Advocate Ashish Kamat alongwith Advocates Megha Chandra, Mahalakshmi G., Tanmay Bhave, and Ayushi Soni represented the plaintiff.
Advocates Nirman Sharma, Ansh Karnawat, Rohan Munj and Jayesh Mestry represented the defendants.
Case no. – Commercial IP Suit (L) No. 25635 Of 2023
Case Title – Navigns Studios Pvt. Ltd. v. Sameer Pandharinath Khandekar and Ors.
Click Here To Read/Download Order