Citation: 1978 AIR 1613; 1979 SCR (1) 218; 1978 SCC (4) 118
Court: Supreme Court of India
Bench: Syed Murtaza Fazal Ali, Jaswant Singh, R.S. Pathak.
R.G Anand was a playwright, dramatist, and producer of stage plays. He wrote a play titled "Hum Hindustani" in the year 1953. It was enacted in 1954 after which the play gained popularity. Mr. Mohan Sehgal, a film director and producer, requested R.G Anand for a copy of the play as he wished to make a film based on it. However, upon receiving the copy, he did not contact R.G Anand again and announced the production of a motion picture titled "New Delhi".
R.G Anand alleged that "New Delhi" was entirely based upon the play "Hum Hindustani" and filed a suit for copyright infringement at the trial court in Delhi. The Court concluded that although the appellant was the owner of the copyright in ’Hum Hindustani’, there was no violation of copyright. Thereafter, R.G Anand filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court upheld the trial court's decision. Thus, he filed an appeal before the Supreme Court of India.
Whether the plaintiff is the copyright owner of the play ’Hum Hindustani’ ?
Is the film 'New Delhi' an infringement of the plaintiff's copyright in the play 'Hum Hindustani'?
Have defendants or any of them infringed the plaintiff's copyright by producing, or distributing or exhibiting the film 'New Delhi'?
Section 1 & 2 of the Copyright Act, 1911.
The Court held that the play written by R.G. Anand falls within section (1)(2)(d) because it is a dramatic work. The learned District Judge had rightly held that emotions like mere ideas are not subject to pre-emption because they are common property. Further, the case highlighted that infringement exists when a work is a transparent rephrasing to produce essentially the story of the other writing. Where there is no textual copying and there are differences in literary style, the similarity between the narration or the script does not indicate infringement. An imitation will be a copy that comes so near to the original as to suggest the original to the mind of every person seeing it.
The Supreme Court held that "...an idea, principle, theme, or subject matter or historical or legendary facts being common property cannot be the subject matter of copyright of a particular person. It is always open to any person to choose an idea as a subject matter and develop it in his own manner and give expression to the idea by treating it differently from others. Where two writers write on the same subject, similarities are bound to occur because the central idea of both are the single but the similarities or coincidences by themselves cannot lead to an irresistible inference of plagiarism or piracy."
Further, the Court laid down the following propositions:
There can be no copyright in an idea, subject matter, theme, plot or historical or legendary facts.
In order to be actionable, the copy must be a substantial and material one which at once leads to the conclusion that the defendant is guilty of an act of piracy.
Similarity test by a reader, spectator or the viewer after assessing both the works.
Where the theme is the same but is presented and treated differently so that the subsequent work becomes a completely new work, no question of violation of copyright arises.
Where however apart from the similarities appearing in the two works, there are also material and broad dissimilarities which negative the intention to copy the original and the coincidences appearing in the two works are clearly incidental no infringement of the copyright comes into existence.
As a violation of copyright amounts to an act of piracy, it must be proved by clear and cogent evidence after applying the various tests laid down by the case law discussed above.
If the viewer after seeing the film gets a totality of impression that the film is by and large a copy of the original play, violation of the copyright may be said to be proved.
This was a landmark judgment that laid down the principle of idea-expression dichotomy. According to this principle, ideas cannot be protected under copyrights. The above-mentioned propositions clarified the extent of copyright violation. Even though this is a former copyright-related judgment, it became a guiding light for numerous copyright infringement cases.