Movie title has no copyright: Madras High Court
Written By: Sanghamitra Panda
Now-a-days, copyright infringement has become a serious issue in the Indian scenario. The term copyright means an exclusive right of the owner/author of the work preventing others to copy the artistic, literary and dramatic work. Problem comes in finding out the scope of the work on which copyright subsists.
In a recent case namely, M/S.Lyca Productions vs J.Manimaran on 22 February 2018 Madras High Court held that copyright doesn’t subsist in movie titles. It not only decided the scope of copyright but also states that the rules of the trade association not binding upon non-members as well.
The events of the cases started in 2011, when a Tamil movie named “KARU” got copyright registered by Plaintiff. Now, according to Film & Television Producers Guild of South India, once the title of the movie is registered no other member of the association can use that name in their movie.
On other hands, another movie titled “LYCAVIN KARU” of Lyca Productions started advertising which resulted in conflict with the plaintiff. Later on the plaintiff approached to the High Court to seek a permanent injunction against the defendant.
The question arose is whether the movie titles holds the copyright or not. The plaintiff stated that they have copyright over the movie title “KARU” and the registered title cannot be used by adding and suffix and prefix.
They further urged that using similar title to the movie can be termed as unfair competition. The term unfair competition is a deceptive business practice, which would give a false impression in the minds of the viewer that the similar movie title has connection with each other.
The judgement was based on two cases such as Krishika Lulla and others v. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta and another and T.Pandiyan Arivali v. Kamal Hassan. The two cases are of paramount importance, because in the earlier case it was held that “a title is not an original literary work” and in the later it was held that
“The definitions in sections 13 and 14 of the copyright act, 1957, do not go beyond the literary work or musical work and the title ordinarily of any such work is not a part of composition or work of the author or the composer.
His workmanship is confined to the work and not to the title”.
In the current case there is no originality in the title “KARU”. KARU means “foetus”, which is common. The title has not acquired any goodwill or reputation.
The court also considered the view taken by the American courts.
Now American Courts have taken uniform view that title alone of a literary work cannot be protected by Copyright Law. Copying of a title alone, and not the plot, characterization, dialogue, song etc. is not the subject of Copyright Law. Thus, a copyright on a literary work would not include exclusive right to use the title on any other work.”
It was held by the Madras High court that there subsists no copyright over the title. The producers are not mandated to become the member of the society. Membership to such societies are optional, thus this doesn’t bound the non-members to follow their rules.
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