Sameer Wadekar and Another v. Netflix Entertainment Services Pvt. Ltd
Date of Order:
May 22, 2022
K.R. Shriram J.
Plaintiff: Sameer Wadekar and Another
Defendant: Netflix Entertainment Services Pvt. Ltd.
The Copyright Act 1957 is an act of the Parliament of India that provides a legal framework for the protection of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. It was enacted on September 19, 1957, and is administered by the Copyright Office, which is a branch of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The primary objective of the Copyright Act 1957 is to protect the rights of creators and producers of literary works, dramatic works, musical works, and artistic works. It aims to ensure that these works are duly acknowledged and rewarded, promoting creativity and innovation in the country.
- The plaintiffs are screenwriters registered with the Screen Writers Association. They came up with the idea of VETAAL back in 2013-2014 and got it registered in 2015.
- Sameer Wadekar shared his script with different producers but his efforts were futile. Later, in May 2020 Wadekar found the trailer for Netflix’s Betaal on YouTube. He contended that in the 146-second trailer, he found 13 similarities between Netflix’s Betaal and his production, Vetaal.
- Subsequently, he approached the Court for action against infringement and plagiarism. At the same time, a plea for an interim injunction was made against releasing Betaal for worldwide viewership.
1. Whether the similarity in depiction in the web series results in copyright infringement of the Plaintiff?
2. Should ad-interim injunction be granted to the Plaintiff by the court and thereby restrict the release of the web series ‘BETAAL’?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PLAINTIFF
- The counsel for the Plaintiff argued before the Court that ‘VETAAL’ is the original work of the Plaintiff, which is originally based on a fictional story.
- Plaintiff believes that the Defendants have infringed his copyrighted work as the Defendants in their video trailer of ‘BETAAL’ have shown scenes whose projection is similar to Plaintiff’s copyrighted work ‘VETAAL’.
- The plaintiff contended that he sent his work to Wilson Louis who is a filmmaker/director, and who had some contacts at Netflix. The plaintiff also stated that Wilson Louis was enthusiastic about making the film on ‘VETAAL’.
- However, the court discovered no evidence to suggest that Wilson Louis had any connections with Netflix, making it challenging to believe that the plaintiff's original work had been copied.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE DEFENDANT
- The Defendants argued that on 16th and 17th July 2019 the defendant made various prints and publications online on several media platforms to promote their web series whereas the Plaintiff only found the advertisement of ‘BETAAL’ on 7th May 2020.
- The defendants contended that the plaintiff could not argue that he was unaware of the advertisement as the press release and publications were public.
- Furthermore, the Defendants contended that the word ‘BETAAL’ originates from the word ‘VEDALAM’ which is prevalent in Hindu Mythology and thus it can be said that many people might know the story of Vikramaditya. Therefore, the defendant contended that the plaintiff cannot be granted the ad-interim injunction.
Justice K.R. Shriram rejected the interim application on three points:
- Plaintiff had no direct connection with any of the defendants and had not disclosed the script to any of them. The only claim was that he had disclosed the script to one Wilson Louis who had claimed he had connections with Netflix. However, it appears that the material on record did not reveal such a connection. The court held that Plaintiff’s claim that Wilson Louis told him that he had some contacts with Netflix was itself not sufficient to grant an injunction in the absence of any other material. Pertinently, Wilson Louis does not seem to be a party to the proceeding and there does not seem to be a claim for breach of confidentiality.
- The second aspect was that the claim was hit by delays and latches. The publications were made in mid-2019, which left the plaintiff with a considerable amount of time to file a suit. Delay in filing an infringement suit, especially in cases of cinematography, has been a vital factor in rejecting the claim.
- The third aspect was that the court held that the term Betaal originated from the Hindu mythological term ‘Vetalam’. The court in this context referred to the well-known Hindu mythological stories of King Vikramaditya and Vetaal/ Betaal. The Court held that such stories are known to people and hence no injunction could be granted.
It can be observed that for an infringement claim to be acceptable, various categories of requirements must be met. Similarities in plot, concepts, and other elements are not sufficient to establish the case of infringement. There is an immediate and pressing need for specific and stringent copyright rules for literary works, as well as a better understanding among screenwriters of the various intellectual property laws and the legal recourse available in cases of violation of those rights.