Copyright is a legal right granted to a creator of an original artistic work by the law of the country, for its use and distribution. It is a set of exclusive rights. These exclusive rights are not absolute; they are subjected to some limitations. It is also a type of intellectual property. Copyright has never been an easy issue. It is filled with controversies, infringements, and allegations.
Arguments over copyright of works happen all the time between the creators, it is an inescapable problem. In this, I will focus five of copyright infringement cases which are considered landmark either due to parties involved or due to the judgment was given by the court of law.
R. G. Anand v. Deluxe Films [AIR (1978) SC 1613]
The plaintiff, R. G. Anand, an architect by profession and furthermore a play writer, screenwriter and producer of several stage plays, wrote and directed a play called ‘Hum Hindustani’ in 1953. It ran successfully and was re-staged in 1954, 1955 and in 1956. Aware of the interest of the plaintiff in filming the play in view of its increasing popularity, the second defendant, Mr. Mohan Sehgal, contacted the plaintiff.
In January 1955, the plaintiff met the second and third defendants and had a detailed talk about the play and its plot and the desire of filming it. However, after this talk, the plaintiff got no further communication from the second defendant. In May 1955, the defendants began to make the film ‘New Delhi’, which, the plaintiff assembled, based on his play, “Hum Hindustani’. The defendant, however, guaranteed him that it was not so. In September 1956, the movie was released and after viewing it, the plaintiff filed a suit for infringement of his copyright in his play ‘Hum Hindustani’. His claims included damages, an account of profits and a permanent injunction against the defendants restraining them from exhibiting the movie.
The plaintiff filed a suit at the District Court and the educated trial judge held, in his insight, that the movie ‘New Delhi’ made by the defendants does not infringe the copyright of the plaintiff. On appeal, the Delhi High Court upheld the judgment of the court. An appeal against the judgment of the Delhi High Court was filed at the Supreme Court.
The plaintiff argued that the similarities between the movie and the play are so close that an inference can be easily made that the movie is indeed a replica of the play. They also argued that the second and third defendant were already aware of the plot of the play during the filming of the movie.
The defendants argued that there were numerous dissimilarities between the play and the movie in respect to the content hence, there was no copyright infringement. The defendant was in search of a story based upon the theme of ‘provincialism’ and the play did confer him with a chance to produce a movie but with a different climax, story, theme, and characterization.
The judgment of Supreme Court is considered a landmark in Indian Copyright Law. It held, in the present case, the play and the film revolve around a similar theme of ‘provincialism’ but it is well established that a mere idea cannot be the subject matter of copyright. The plot of the film depicted two concerns of provincialism that it is firstly the function of provincialism with respect to marriage and secondly in relation to renting out accommodation.
Further, it also dealt with the issue of evils of a society dominated by caste and the ills of dowry. The last two issues have not been dealt in the play by any means. Also, the play was limited just to one part of provincialism which is in regards to the marriage between individuals from different states. Thus, in various perspectives, the story and its depiction are very different in relation to the one in the play.
It was not an instance of infringement of copyright. The similarities were trivial and not a ‘substantial’ or ‘material’ copy of the original play and the dissimilarities weighed more than the similarities.
After seeing the play and watching the film no prudent individual would conclude that the film was a replica of the original play. If the play and the film are compared closely from a scene with the scenes, situation to situation and concerning climax to anti-climax, in consistency, management, purport and representation, the picture is significantly different from the play.
Thus the present case fails to satisfy the requirements of a colorable imitation of the play and cannot amount to copyright infringement.
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp v. MCA Inc. and Ors [715 F.2d 1327 (9th Cir. 1983)]
Also known as Star Wars v Battlestar Galactica is one of the most notorious cases of copyright infringement. In the year 1977, George Lucas’ Star Wars was released and achieved instant popularity and critical acclaim. The following year another science fiction TV series was released by MCA based on a similar plot called Battlestar Galactica.
Twentieth Century Fox which is the production company of Star Wars filed a suit against Universal Studios which is the production company of Battlestar alleging that their copyright in Star Wars has been infringed by Battlestar. Fox claimed that it had stolen 34 distinct ideas from Star Wars. Among them was a character named Skyler, which was too similar to Skywalker, and the possibility of airing the show with the title “Star Worlds”.
In June 1978, Fox and Lucasfilm (collectively referred to as “Fox”) started this action against MCA, Universal, and ABC (collectively referred to as “MCA”), alleging copyright infringement. In this way, Fox’s altered complaint joined Lucasfilm Ltd. as co-plaintiff and alleged that the defendants had additionally infringed Lucasfilm’s copyright in its 1976 Star Wars book.
Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on the copyright claims. Regarding that movement, the trial judge reviewed a videotape montage of earlier science fiction works, the Star Wars film and book, and a videotape of the first television episode of Battlestar. Defendants did not challenge the legitimacy of plaintiffs’ Star Wars copyrights. Further, for purposes of the motion, defendants admitted access to plaintiffs’ works.
The main issue brought up in the motion was whether defendants’ Battlestar: Galactica production was not at all similar to plaintiffs’ Star Wars works, as to both ideas and expression of those ideas, that no material issue of fact existed on the subject of significant similarity, and the question could be decided as a matter of law. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment. This appeal ensued.
Material facts of the issue were, as evidence Fox listed 34 supposed similarities in the plot lines, characters, technologies etc. The company’s briefs argued that the ideas were original to Star Wars and it was clearly stolen by Battlestar. The company’s brief argued that the ideas were original and unique to Star Wars and clearly stolen by Battlestar.
The US Federal Court was eased back to buy this argument, demanded a trial in light of the fact that “at a minimum, it is a close enough question that it should be resolved by way of a trial. We intimate no opinion whether the films are substantially similar as to either idea or expression, but the state only that reasonable minds could differ on those key factual issues.”
Federal Court pronounced its summary judgment on the appeal,
“The law relating to a grant of summary judgment is clear. Only if no genuine issue of material fact exists will the moving party be entitled to prevail as a matter of law. On appeal, the question whether summary judgment was properly granted below is one of law. The standard governing our review is the same as that employed by the trial court under Rule 56(c). That is, this court must view the evidence and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, herein plaintiffs-appellants Fox and Lucasfilm. Defendants MCA, Universal and ABC may prevail only if no genuine issue of material fact exists on the questions of substantial similarity of idea and idea expression.
After viewing the Star Wars and Battlestar motion pictures, we conclude that the films do in fact raise genuine issues of material fact as to whether only the Star Wars idea or the expression of that idea was copied. At a minimum, it is a close enough question that it should be resolved by way of a trial.
We intimate no opinion whether the films are substantially similar as to either idea or expression, but the state only that reasonable minds could differ on those key factual issues. Thus, a grant of summary judgment was improvident. We do not imply that summary judgment is never appropriate in copyright infringement actions. We, therefore, reverse and remand for trial.”
Before the trial could be resolved, the parties settled out of court. Battlestar Galactica would no longer be aired. Subsequently, what facts the court would have found remains a matter of conjecture. Based on the various evidence collected, a continued trial might have resulted in the favor of MCA and Universal Studios, and Battlestar Galactica would have lived to see its second season.
Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation & Hewlett-Packard Co. [35 F.3d 1435 (9th Cir.1994)]
The fight between these tech giants began due to a simple question as to who invented the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The company that controls the interface of the following major operating system will be able to set the benchmarks for application software, so it’s obvious that Apple prevents to prevent Windows from turning into a major operating system.
The case was a copyright infringement lawsuit in which Apple Computer, Inc. (presently Apple Inc.) sought to prevent Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard from utilizing visual Graphical User Interface (GUI) components that were similar to those in Apple’s Lisa and Macintosh operating systems. The lawsuit was filed in 1988 and lasted four years; the decision was affirmed on appeal in 1994.
Apple claimed that the “look and feel” of the Macintosh operating system, taken as a whole, was protected by copyright, and that every individual component of the interface, was not as important as all of these components taken together. After oral arguments, the court demanded an analysis of particular GUI components that Apple guaranteed were copyright infringements.
Apple recorded 189 GUI components; the court chose that 179 of these components had been licensed to Microsoft in the Windows 1.0 agreement and the greater part of the most of the remaining 10 components was not copyrightable as either they were unoriginal to Apple, or it was the only way to express that particular idea.
The district court decided that it would require a standard of “virtual identity” between Windows and the Macintosh at trial as it would help Apple to demonstrate copyright infringement. Apple believed this to be excessively narrow of a standard and that a broader “look and feel” was all that ought to be vital at trial. Therefore, the two parties agreed that a jury trial was superfluous given the rulings, and Apple filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with a specific end goal to have the district court’s characterization overruled.
After the district court decided in favor of Microsoft, Apple appealed against the decision arguing that the district court just considered about the infringements based on the individual components of Apple’s GUI, as opposed to the interface as a whole.
The appeals court almost completely avowed the decision of the district court, stating that, “almost all the similarities spring either from the license or from basic ideas and their obvious expression… illicit copying could occur only if the works as a whole are virtually identical.”
However, the circuit court reversed the region court’s decision not to grant attorney’s fees to Microsoft, clarifying and sending the case back to the district court to resolve the issue.
The circuit court dissected the GUI so as to isolate expression from ideas (an expression, however not ideas, are protected by copyright law). The court listed five ideas that it would be identified as fundamental to a GUI desktop: windows, icon images of office items, manipulations of icons, menus, and the opening and closing of objects. The court established that Apple cannot make copyright claims based on these ideas and could just make claims on the expression of them.
Mattel Inc. & Ors v Jayant Agarwalla & Ors [2008 (153) DLT 548]
Plaintiffs, in this case, were leading manufacturers of toys, games and consumer items. One of the well-known products of the Plaintiffs was the board game advertised and by the name ‘SCRABBLE’.
The trademark ‘SCRABBLE’ has been used since the year 1948. The Plaintiffs asserted being owners of the trademark SCRABBLE in all nations with the exception of the United States and Canada. The Plaintiffs gave a list of their licensees for different platforms. They also affirmed having publicized and promoted the game widely through the Internet and maintaining well-known websites including, http://www.scrabble.com and http://www.mattelscrabble.com.
The Plaintiffs alleged that defendants launched an online adaptation of their board game under the name SCRABULOUS, as an application available through the famous networking website http://www.facebook.com. The online form was also promoted by the defendants’ site http://www.scrabulous.com, http://www.scrabulous.info, and http://www.scrabulous.org.
The plaintiffs argued that defendants have infringed their copyright in the game board and the rules. By the utilization of red, pink, blue and light blue tiles, utilization of identical patterns of arrangement of colored tiles and the use of a star pattern on the central square, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants have infringed their copyright in the game board which is an artistic work.
The defendants argued that, since the word ‘scrabble’ is in the public domain, any such use cannot be an infringement of the plaintiffs’ rights. Copyright claim in connection with the game board is not viable since the board, which is a three-dimensional article is not copyrightable. Moreover, the shape and configuration of the board can be registered as a design, and hence, monopoly over the copyright extinguished the moment more than 50 articles are produced and commercially sold under Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act.
The question was whether Scrabble is capable of protection under copyright law. That was the core of the issue before the Court. The plaintiffs argued that the game was an ‘artistic work’ under copyright law, and claimed that “… the defendants have infringed (the plaintiffs’) copyright in the game board and the rules. By use of red, pink, blue and light blue tiles and the use of a star pattern on the central square … the defendants have infringed (the plaintiffs’) copyright in the game board which is an artistic work.” Justice Bhat rejected this line of reasoning in light of three variables; (a) the required standards of ‘originality’ were not met, (b) the ‘doctrine of merger’ applies, and (c) Section 15 (2) of the Copyright Act would apply.
The arrangement of colors, values on the board, the collocation of lines, value of each alphabetical tiles, etc have no characteristic importance, but for the rules. In the event that these rules which are the only way for expressing the fundamental ideas are subject to copyright, the idea in the game would be given monopoly: an outcome not intended by the lawmakers, who just wanted an expression of ideas to be protected. Thus, this Court concludes, prima facie, that the copyright claim of the plaintiff cannot be granted.
Section 15 of the Copyright Act mandates that copyright subsists under the Copyright Act in any design, which is registered under the Designs Act, 1911 and in respect of designs capable of registration under the Designs Act, 1911, the copyright shall cease as long as an article to which the design has been applied has been reproduced more than 50 times by an industrial process by the owner of the copyright or his licensee. It cannot be questioned here that reproduction of the multicolored game board has happened more than 50 times, as also the alphabetical tiles.
It is not also in dispute that there is no registration which has occurred under the Designs Act, 1911 (or under the Designs Act, 2000). In these conditions, the defendants’ objection that copyright cannot be claimed, is prima facie justified. Therefore for this reason as well, it was held that the plaintiffs’ copyright claims cannot be granted, at this stage.
Eastern Book Company & Ors vs D.B. Modak & Anr [(2008) 1 SCC 1]
Eastern Book Company (EBC) is a leading publisher of law reports/journals in India. One such publication is a law report titled “Supreme Court Cases” (“SCC”), containing all Supreme Court judgments. Raw judgments are copy edited by a group of assistant staff and various inputs are put in the judgments and orders to make them user-friendly. These also include the addition of cross-references, standardization or formatting of the text, paragraph numbering, and verification and by putting other inputs.
The Appellants additionally prepared the head notes involving two segments, the short note consisting of catch/lead words written in bold; and the long note, which is comprised of a brief discussion of the facts and the relevant extracts from the judgments and orders of the Court.
According to the Appellants arguments, SCC is a law report which conveys case reports containing the appellants’ version or presentation of those judgments and requests of the Supreme Court after adding different inputs to the raw content and it constitutes an ‘original literary work’ of the appellants in which copyright subsists under Section 13 of the Copyright Act, 1957 and consequently the appellants alone have the exclusive right to make printing as well as electronic copies of the same under Section 14 of the Act. Any scanning or replicating or reproduction done of or from the reports or pages or paragraphs or portions of any volume of SCC by any other person is an infringement of the copyright in SCC within the meaning of Section 51 of the Act.
Respondent launched a software called “Grand Jurix” published on CD-ROMs and the Respondent brought out a software package called “The Laws” published on CD-ROMS. As per EBC, all the modules in the defendants’ software packages have been lifted verbatim from the SCC.
Appellants also argued that the Respondents have copied the Appellants’ sequencing, selection, and arrangement of the cases combined with the entire text of copy-edited judgments as published in the Appellants’ law report SCC, along with and including the style and formatting, the copy-editing paragraph numbers, footnote numbers, cross-references, etc. and such acts of the Respondents constitute infringement of the Appellants’ exclusive right to the same.
The Division Bench altered the judgment of the Single Judge by directing the Respondents that they might be qualified for selling their CD-ROMs with the content of the judgments of the Supreme Court alongside their own headnotes, editorial notes, if any, which should not in any way be a copy of the head notes of the Appellants. The Respondents were directed not to copy the references and footnotes and editorial notes appearing in the journal of the Appellants.
The Supreme Court held,
“For the reasons stated in the aforesaid discussion, the appeals are partly allowed. The High Court has already granted interim relief to the plaintiff-appellants by directing that though the respondent-defendants shall be entitled to sell their CD-ROMS with the text of the judgments of the Supreme Court along with their own headnotes, editorial notes, if any, they should not in any way copy the head notes of the plaintiff-appellants; and that the defendant-respondents shall also not copy the footnotes and editorial notes appearing in the journal of the plaintiff-appellants.
It is further directed by us that the defendant-respondents shall not use the paragraphs made by the appellants in their copy-edited version for internal references and their editor’s judgment regarding the opinions expressed by the Judges by using phrases like concurring’, ‘partly dissenting’, etc. on the basis of reported judgments in SCC. The judgment of the High Court is modified to the extent that in addition to the interim relief already granted by the High Court, we have granted the above-mentioned additional relief to the appellants.”
These landmark judgments both Indian and international show us how the copyright law has evolved over time and from case to case overcoming hurdles. It also depicts how the trends have changed in copyright law by the improvement of new technology and science.
– Medha P M
Content Writer @ Legal Bites