India: No Copyright in Title of Film

December 10, 2019
Copyright Law of India

By Meril Mathew Joy and Ashish Sharma

The Hon’ble Division Bench of the Madras High Court in a recent case titled, K. Balaji Kumar v M/s. Star Polaris & Anr.[1] observed that the title alone of literary works cannot be protected under the copyright law and legal protection for literary titles lies in field of trademark and unfair competition law. 

Case Brief:

  • The matter pertained to claim of copyright by the Appellant/Plaintiff, K. Balaji Kumar, with respect to the release of a motion picture named “Kolaiyudhir Kaalam”.
  • The Appellant, K. Balaji Kumar, claimed copyright on the basis of the title of a book authored by one Sujatha, the copyright of which has been purchased by him. The lower Court passed an interim order in favour of the Appellant vide order dated July 4, 2019.
  • The Respondents, M/S Star Polaris and Anr in the present appeal prayed for vacation of the interim order and maintenance of status quo dated July 4, 2019.
  • The Hon’ble Madras High Court allowed the appeal for vacating the interim order granted in favour of the appellant on July 4, 2019, directing status quo to be maintained by the parties.

Appellant Contentions:

  • The learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the interim order restricting the respondents from using “Kolaiyudhir kallam” as title for their film to be continued during the pendency of the suit.

Respondent Contentions:

Respondents through their counsel Mr. V. Subramanian, submitted that the Appellant have claimed copyright just on basis of the title of a book authored by Sujata, and the same has been purchased by the Respondent.

Respondent also submitted that Copyright law does not apply to such single title.

  • Learned counsel of respondent derives that there is no copyright in a title that would apply to all feature films. He relied on the Madras High Court Judgement Radhakrishnan v A.R.Murugadoss and another[2], dated 29.10.2013 and M/s.Lyca Productions -Vs- J.Manimaran and Others[3], decided on 22.02.2018
  • In M/s.Lyca Productions -Vs- J.Manimaran and Others, the Division Bench of the madras High Court held that the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957 and in particular the wide definition given in Section 2(m)(ii)[4] actually means a copy of the film made on any medium by any means.
  • The learned counsel of respondent claims that the plot and storyline of the two films is different and there is no similarity between the two.
  • That the respondents have invested huge amount in the production of the said movie and have completed all certification works and advertisement etc., and the interim order granted by this Court is causing prejudice and loss to the respondents
  • Copying of a title alone, and not the plot, characterization, dialogue, song etc. is not the subject of Copyright Law. Thus, a copyright on a literary work would not include exclusive right to use the title on any other work.

Court’s Observation:

The High Court of Madras while ruling in favour of the Respondent, made the following observations in the case:

That the American Courts have taken a view that the title alone of a literary work cannot be protected under the Act. Copying of title alone, and not the plot, songs, dialogue etc. is not the subject of copyright law.

That legal protection for literary titles lies in the field of trademark and unfair competition. In general, such titles are protected according to the fundamental principles of trademark and unfair competition law. The titles of literary and entertainment creations and works are treated in much the same way as the trademarks of other commercial commodities.

The Court further bifurcated the category of titles into two types of works, i.e.  titles of single literary works and titles of series of literary works. The titles of series of books, newspaper, periodicals do function as a trademark as they indicate each edition come from same source as the others. Such ‘series titles’ enjoys the same protection as usual trademark. The Hon’ble Court explained this by giving examples of various TV series, movie franchises like ‘The Godfather’, ‘Rocky’, ‘Die Hard’.

It is pertinent to mention that the current ruling has brought back the view of the Hon’ble High Court in concurrence to the M/s Lyca Production case (supra) after the ex-parte order in M/S Saumya Movies vs M/S.Suresh Production[5] upheld the copyright claim of the film title ‘Naan Aanaiittaal’.

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[1] O.S.A. No. 154 of 2019 and C.M.P. No. 13790 of 2019.

[2] O.A.No.710 & 711 of 2013 in C.S.No.639 of 2013

[3] O.S.A.No.63 of 2018

[4] (m) “infringing copy” means,— 4[(m) “infringing copy” means,—”

(i) in relation to a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, a reproduction thereof otherwise than in the form of a cinematographic film;

[5] CS.No.820 of 2017




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