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Bombay HC Refuses To Stay Streaming Of Netflix Series "Betaal" On Allegations Of Copyright Infringement

Nitish Kashyap
24 May 2020 9:19 AM GMT
Bombay HC Refuses To Stay Streaming Of  Netflix Series Betaal On Allegations Of Copyright Infringement
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The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed an interim application filed by one Sameer Wadekar who alleged that one of his scripts registered in 2015 with the Screen Writers Association with the title 'Vetaal' was copied by the makers of the upcoming Netflix series 'Betaal' and sought a stay on the release of the series.

Justice KR Shriram heard the interim application filed by Wadekar and prima facie observed that the claim for copyright infringement was not made out.

Advocate Viraj Kadam appeared on behalf of the plaintiff, Senior Advocate Sharan Jagtiani for Netflix and writer of the Netflix Series 'Betaal' and Advocate Hiren Kamod for the producer and director of 'Betaal'.

According to the plaintiff, he watched the trailer of 'Betaal' on Youtube which convinced him that it was a copy of the plaintiff's copyright. This Youtube video was sent to the plaintiff by a friend on May 7, 2020 and which is the date on which trailer was also released by Netflix.

Plaintiff contended that in the 146 seconds of the video trailer, there were at least 13 similarities with the copyright work of plaintiff. Advocate Kadam submitted that since Netflix has infringed his client's registered copyright work 'Vetaal', they should be restrained by an ad-interim order from going ahead with the release on May 24.

The story 'Vetaal' was an original script of plaintiff which was based on a fictional story created with the imagination of plaintiff which included characters, locations, props etc. Defendants have depicted in many different manners plaintiff's work but the defendants' projection is similar to copyright of plaintiff. It is a case of infringement of copyright and plagiarism, Kadam contended.

At this juncture, Justice Shriram asked Kadam that if plaintiffs' story was fictional and absolutely original, how would the defendants have come to know particularly defendant no.3 who is the author of the webseries 'Betaal'.

To this, Kadam submitted that the plaintiff has shared his copyright work with many known and established producers one of whom was a filmmaker/director named Wilson Louis. Plaintiff was in touch with Louis regularly. According to the plaintiff, Louis strongly believed in the story and was determined to make the film happen and he had few contacts in Netflix and elsewhere. E-mails exchanged between Wadekar and Louis in July 2016 were also submitted.

Finally, after hearing the submissions of all parties, Justice Shriram observed-

"These emails do not show any link between Wilson Louis and Netflix. Except for plaintiff saying that Wilson Louis told plaintiff no.1 that he has some contacts in Netflix, there is nothing else to show any link with the defendant. Therefore, I find it difficult to believe that the so-called original story written by the plaintiff, can be copied by somebody else. This is one point which is against the plaintiff getting any ad-interim relief as prayed for."

Secondly, the Court pointed out the delay and latches-

"Netflix has in an affidavit of one Priyanka Choudhary affirmed on May 21, not only averred but also produced evidence to the fact that several print and online publications dated July 16 & 17, 2019 of general readership and popular to the trade and business of movies and general entertainment, carried reports of Netflix airing an original web-series called 'Betaal' with a description of a web-series in those articles."

Finally, the bench said-

"The 3rd point which is not in favour of the plaintiff for granting an ad-interim relief as prayed for is that the word `Betaal' originates from `Vetalam' relevant in Hindu Mythology. Everybody would have read the stories of Vikramaditya where a Vetaal would ask him a question and also tell him if he opens his mouth to speak, Vetaal will fly away and that if he does not answer despite knowing the answer, his head will explode. The beliefs associated with Vetaal is that it has supernatural powers with great prowess."

Thus, the interim application was dismissed.

At this stage, Kadam sought leave of the Court to take out an application for amending the plaint to include claim and damages. Liberty was granted and it was noted that the application when heard, will be disposed of on merits. In view of the lockdown, a period of 8 weeks has been granted to file written statements. 

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