In a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Vinay Vats v. Fox Star Studios India Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. in I.A. 6351/2020 in CS(COMM) 291/2020 delivered on July 30, 2020, the Delhi High Court has reaffirmed that there can be no copyright in an idea/theme. While holding thus, it refused to pass an injunction order, restraining the release of Film ‘Lootcase’ on Hotstar hours before its scheduled release on July 31, 2020. The Delhi High Court was hearing the plea of Indian writer and Director, Vinay Vats claiming that the film had “substantial similarities” with his script titled “Tukkaa Fitt” and even though his film could not be released, Vats had strongly relied on its trailer so released in the year 2016. But his plea was rejected!
To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this notable judgment wherein it is observed by Justice C Hari Shankar of Delhi High Court that, “By this application, the plaintiff seeks a restraint from release of a film “Lootcase” slated to be released tomorrow, i.e. 31st July, 2020.” It is then stated in para 2 that, “The plaintiff claims to be the author and, consequently, the first copyright owner, of a script for a film titled “Tukkaa Fitt”. The script was written in 2010-2011, and was registered with the Film Writer’s Association, Mumbai on 14th March, 2011.”
To say the least, para 3 then states that, “It is further asserted, in the plaint, that the plaintiff was approached by the Director of M/s AAP Entertainment Limited, in 2011, for permission to utilize the script of the plaintiff and make a motion picture “Tukkaa Fitt”. The plaintiff agreed, whereupon Mr. Premal Parekh of M/s AAP Entertainment Limited, took over as producers of the proposed film “Tukaa Fitt”.”
What ensued next is stated in para 4 that, “Thereafter, it appears that disputes arose between the plaintiff and the said producers, which came to be settled by the Disputes Settlement Committee of the Film Writer’s Association, Mumbai on 21st September, 2011.”
Furthermore, it is then pointed out in para 5 that, “It is further averred, in the plaint, that the production of the film “Tukkaa Fitt” was completed in November 2012 but that, as the producer of the film, unfortunately, died, the release of the film was halted. That position, it is stated, continues till date and the film “Tukkaa Fitt” is yet to be released.”
Notwithstanding to what has been stated, it is then brought out in para 6 that, “Despite this fact, it is asserted in the plaint that as the trailer of the film “Tukkaa Fitt” was released on You Tube and other public media platforms in March, 2011, the work of the plaintiff has been in the public domain since then.”
Be it noted, para 7 then envisages that, “It is further asserted, in the plaint, that on 18th July, 2020, the plaintiff’s assistant informed the plaintiff of the imminent release of the film “Lootcase”, tomorrow, i.e. 31st July, 2020. The plaintiff claims, that on getting to know this fact, he viewed the trailer of the film “Lootcase” and was shocked to find substantial similarities between the plot of the said film “Lootcase” and his script. A tabular statement of the said similarities, has been set out in para 13 of the plaint.”
Needless to say, it is then aptly noted in para 8 that, “It is on this foundation that the plaintiff seeks an interim injunction, restraining release of the film “Lootcase”, to be released tomorrow, i.e. 31st July, 2020.”
After hearing the lawyers, it is then observed in para 15 that, “Having heard learned Counsel at length, I am unable to convince myself that any case for grant of interim relief can be said to exist.”
More significantly, the Delhi High Court then minces no words in para 17 to lay down explicitly, elegantly and effectively that, “It is clear, from a reading of very first principle, set out in the aforesaid paragraph, there is no copyright in any idea, subject, matter, theme or plot, and violation of copyright is confined to the form, manner and arrangement and the expression of the idea by the author of the copyright at work. In the present case, there is no earlier film, based on the script of the plaintiff, which could form the basis of a claim to copyright. The plaintiff as Mr. Neeraj Kishan Kaul correctly points out, bases his cause of action on a script, which never came in the public domain, and public knowledge of which is being sought to be attributed on the basis of a trailer, for a film which never saw the light of day. The cause of action, on the basis whereof the plaintiff premises his case, therefore, essentially remained inchoate. The trailer was not made by the plaintiff and the makers of the trailer have not ventilated any claim for violation of copyright. It is prima facie questionable, in the circumstances, whether any claim of copyright can be laid by the present plaintiff at all, in such circumstances.”
Equally significant if not more is what is then stated in para 19 that, “On its face, the plot essentially revolves around a suitcase, carrying money, being lost, and various persons, including gangsters chasing to get hold of it. The plot idea is as old as the hills, and, without meaning any disrespect to the ingenuity of the plaintiff as a scriptwriter, it can hardly be said, prima facie, that the script of the plaintiff’s screenplay – which has been placed on record but the details of which this Court, for obvious reasons, deems it appropriate not to reveal – can lay claim to any such novelty as could be said to have been filched by the defendant. In fact, a comparison of the salient features of upcoming “Lootcase”, as manifested from the aforesaid trailer, vis-à-vis plaintiff’s script, reveal that there are considerable features in the plaintiff’s script which are missing in the trailer, and there are certain elements of the story as reflected in the trailer, which are not to be found in the script of the plaintiff. The mere fact that certain plot points, between the plaintiff’s script and the story of the upcoming film “Lootcase” as reflected in the trailer released on You Tube, may be common, cannot be the basis to lay a claim to copyright, as the plaintiff has chosen to do. The plot points, on which the plaintiff relies, such as persons losing bags of money, claiming the same and such bags being sought by members of the underworld, are plot points, which may figure in more than one cinematographic film and cannot, therefore, be said to be the exclusive province of the plaintiff. That apart, no copyright exists in a mere idea, plot or theme, as authoritatively held in R.G. Anand Vs. M/s Delux Films 1978 (4) SCC 118.”
Be it noted, it is then observed in para 20 that, “There is yet another reason as to why I am not inclined to accede to the prayer of the plaintiff for grant of ad interim injunction. Mr. Aggarwal has acknowledged that, at the very least, the trailer of the film “Lootcase” was released on 16th July, 2020. I may note, in this context, that Mr. Neeraj Kishan Kaul contests this statement and submits that the promos of his client’s film “Lootcase” had been in the public domain since June, 2019. Either which way, there is no justification for the plaintiff having approached this Court on the eve of the release of the film “Lootcase”, which is slated to be released tomorrow, i.e. 31st July, 2020 and seeking injunction against such release. It is further submitted by Mr Kaul, that the story of the film has been covered in the print as well as electronic media since September, 2019.”
To be sure, it is then made abundantly clear in para 21 that, “This case, therefore, appears, prima facie, to constitute yet another example of the misuse of the judicial process”.
Going ahead, it is then held in para 22 that, “In view of the above discussions, there is no case, whatsoever, for grant of any interim injunction, staying the release of the film “Lootcase”, twenty-four hours before it is due for release.” Finally, it is then held in the last para 23 that, “The application is dismissed.”
All said and done, this extremely laudable, landmark and latest judgment by Justice C Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court makes it absolutely clear that there can be no copyright in an ideas/theme. Therefore, it also refused to pass an injunction order as prayed by the plaintiff just shortly before the film “Lootcase” was to be released on 31st July, 2020! Very rightly so! Also, it cannot be ignored that the promos of the film “Lootcase” had already been in public domain since June 2019 and thus the plaintiff who himself belonged to the film industry could not feign ignorance of the same! This alone explains why the Delhi High Court was of the view that the case appeared to be another example of “misuse of the judicial process”! No denying it!