Sanjay Kumar Gupta vs Sony Pictures Network India

Colorful letters forming the word copyright

Brief Facts of the Case

The Appellants contend that the Respondents should be held liable for infringement of Copyright of their concept. Appellants run a quiz show by the name of Jeeto while the respondents are proprietors of Kaun Banega Crorepati.

The Appellants claim that they’d floated their concepts to the respondents who in turn breached their confidentiality and copied their concept for their show.

The entire claims of the Appellants rests on the argument that they have copyright over the concept of involving at-home players in the quiz show.

Issues Raised

There are, inter alia, two main issues raised by the Trial Court in the present case.

Firstly, whether the copyrights claimed by the plaintiff in the concept of "Jeeto   Unlimited"   is   an   original work for the purpose of the Copyright   Act,   1957?

Secondly, whether   the   plaintiff is entitled   to   a   decree   for infringement of his copyright   work?

Arguments by the Parties

The Appellants have based their claims on two broad arguments, i.e there was a breach of confidentiality on part of the respondents and that they (the Appellants) had copyright over the concept of Jeeto.

In support of their first argument, the Appellants put forth that they had floated the concept to the defendants who in turn had forced them to sign a waiver absolving them of any liability in case of disclosure.

In support of their argument, the Appellants pleaded that they presented this concept to the respondent who run and produce the popular game show “Kaun Banega Carorepati” (KBC). They allege that the Respondent had copied the concept which was presented by them in and hence violated the copyright of the appellants.

Further, they point out that there is certain similarity between the concept of 'Jeeto Unlimited' and KBC.

“1. Game will be played simultaneously with the contestant and the home audience.

  1. Home audience answers the same question that has been asked to the contestant
  2. Home viewer can participate by watching the television for questions and giving the answer through SMS/email
  3. Reward depends on the amount of money for which the question is being played
  4. Home Viewer will be selected through digital mode programming by the channel‟s technical team”

On the other hand, the Respondents have countered that the Appellants had no Copyright over the concept used in Jeeto Unlimited. They have also asserted that there is substantial similarity between the two shows even though certain concepts are similar.

The Respondents point out the following distinctions between the two shows:

  1. Contestants in the Respondent’s show are selected on the basis of who can answer a question the fastest. Contestants in the Appellant’s show are selected through the lottery method.
  2. The games played by the contestants and the games played by the home-viewers do not overlap in the Respondent’s show. In the Appellant’s show however, the home viewers are invited to answer the questions posed to the contestant and is used as a hint or a “lifeline” by the contestant.
  3. The Respondent’s show is a pre-recorded event where home viewers get to watch the pre-recorded episode. In the Appellant’s show, the contestants and the home viewers play the game simultaneously.
  4. The games played by the contestant and the home viewers are separate, and their rewards are different as well in case of the Respondent’s quiz show. In case of the Appellant’s quiz show, the home viewer whose correct response was chosen by the contestant is rewarded by splitting the increase of monetary amount between the contestant and the home viewer.
  5. In the Respondent’s show the contestant is provided only one opportunity to answer the question correctly. In the Appellant’s show, the contestant is negatively marked for the first wrong answer, and the game ends on the second wrong answer.

Decision of the Court

The Court was quick to dismiss the first claim based on the findings of the Trial Court. The Appellants could not produce the alleged consent/waiver form nor did they make any effort to call for its production in court. The Court also took note of the fact that media houses have a general practice of signing such forms before meetings to ensure that should any broadcast/publication have contents similar to those discussed in the meetings, they won’t be held liable. Thus, it shows that the Appellants knew of the consequences before they signed such a form or attended such a meeting.

The Court has relied on the principles laid down in the Supreme Court case of R.G. Anand vs Deluxe Films. The Apex Court, in this case, avers that there can be no copyright in an idea, principle, subject-matter, themes, plots etc.

The stated that:

“..in law what is copyrightable is not an idea, principle, subject-matter, theme, plot etc but how such aspects are brought into a form of literary work or dramatic work or artistic work or musical work or cinematographic film or sound recording or actual live shows/performers rights or broadcasting rights….”

The Court relied on the fact that one of the witness of the Appellants that was produced in Trial Court had himself stated that the concept of audience/viewer engagement has been earlier used in various television programmes.

The Court relied on Section 16 of the Copyright Act, which states that:

“No person shall be entitled to copyright or any similar right in any work, whether published or unpublished, otherwise than under and in accordance with the provisions of this Act or of any other law for the time being in force, but nothing in this section shall be construed as abrogating any right or jurisdiction to restrain a breach of trust or confidence.”

In that light, the Court found that concept is not a subject matter of copyright. It is not a copyright work as provided envisaged in section 2(y) or Section 14 or Sections 37 to 39A of the Copyright Act.  The Court stresses that a concept cannot be a subject matter of copyright because a concept must be transformed into a  form of a literary work or dramatic work or musical work or artistic work or cinematographic work or sound recording or a performer’s right or a live show for it to have any Copyright protection in that particular work.

The Court also ruled that there is no averment that appellants are first in the world who have innovated such a concept of play along audience sitting at home. The concept of a play along audience sitting at home was already in public domain.

Conclusion

The concept of a quiz show is a concept which is otherwise well known – one can argue that it is an internationally popular form of quiz shows.

Thus, the Delhi High Court, in this instance, has only reiterated what the Supreme Court had already laid down in the case of R.G. Anand vs Deluxe Films.

New ideas and concepts spring from old ones. Granting of copyright protection to ideas and concepts would render creativity obsolete. Time and again, when this issue of copyright of ideas crop up, the Courts have understood the necessity of allowing creative freedom over ideas and protection over work.

Yet, we constantly have cases where one party alleges that they have the Copyright over an “idea” or a “concept”.

While this judgment upholds the law already laid down, what is needed is for the Courts to lay down guidelines to determine how concepts differ from work. The Courts need to give the term “concept” a concrete definition which can be used as a guideline in future cases to quickly determine whether copyright should exist or not.

We hope this article was a useful read. The judgment can be downloaded here. 

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Best regards – Team InvnTree   

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

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