Copyright in a title of short story

Infringement of copyright

Can a person claim copyright in respect of title of  Story?

The Court declined injunction against the defendant for using the brand name and title “Nishabd” alleging similar to the film of the plaintiff therein. The learned Judge A.K. Sikri, J. referred to decisions of the American Courts and observed that the position is the same as under the copyright law in India:-

“12……… What, therefore, follows is that if a junior user uses the senior user’s literary title as the title of a work that by itself does not infringe the copyright of a senior user’s work since there is no copyright infringement merely from the identity or similarity of the titles alone.”

I may state here that in discussing the aforesaid legal position I have extensively quoted the legal position in US as applicable to the cases of “titles in literary or entertain works.” Reason is simple. Law in India on the subject is not much developed and the only case cited at the bar was the judgment of a learned Single Judge (per Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vikramajit Sen) of this Court in the case of Biswaroop Roy Choudhary v. Karan Johar (131 (2006) DLT 458, 2006 (33) PTC 381 Del). However, it may be added that the principles on which law in US on the subject has developed are the same as applicable in the Indian law of passing off. The only difference is that where as there is a paucity of case law in India, in America, over a period of time law has sufficiently been evolved…..”

[Source: Kanungo Media (P) Ltd. v RGV Film Factory, (2007) ILR 1 Delhi 1122: 138 (2007) DLT 312]

The complainant/Respondent No.1 claims copyright in a synopsis of a story written by him with the title “Desi Boys”. According to him, he had written a story with the title “Desi Boys” and had got the synopsis of the story registered with the Film Writers Association on 25.11.2008, when a friend, one Ramesh Bhatnagar, told him that a comedy film story is required by the son of a film Director, David Dhawan, he mailed the concept of the story in the form of a synopsis as an attachment to an email addressed to Ramesh Bhatnagar on 14.10.2009 with the words “Dear Friend, just see the attachment.” Ramesh Bhatnagar forwarded the story, calling it “just an idea” by email to one Ahsan Sagar on 15.10.2009. What was forwarded was apparently the same short synopsis of the concept with the title “Desi Boys”. A copy on the record makes it clear that it was by no means the entire story with all the dialogues and the screen play. Having done so, his friend Ramesh Bhatnagar did not receive any reply but, suddenly the complainant saw the promos of a film bearing the title “Desi Boys”, actually spelt as “Desi Boyz”. According to him, the adoption of the title “Desi Boyz” is a clear infringement of the copyright in the film title “Desi Boys”. Admittedly, he has not seen the film and he states in his complaint, he cannot say whether a part of the story of the film written by him has also been infringed.

Decision:

No copyright subsists in the title of a literary work and a plaintiff or a complainant is not entitled to relief on such basis except in an action for passing off or in respect of a registered trademark comprising such titles. This does not mean that in no case can a title be a proper subject of protection against being copied as held in Dicks v Yates ((1881) 18 Ch D 79) where Jessel M.R said “there might be copyright in a title as for instance a whole page of title or something of that kind requiring invention” or as observed by Copinger.

In the present case we find that there is no copyright in the title “Desi Boys” and thus no question of its infringement arises. The prosecution based on allegations of infringement of copyright in such a title is untenable.

[Source: Krishika Lulla vs Shyam Vithalrao, decided by SC on 15 October, 2015]
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