The ‘Swayamwar’ Copyright Judement

The ‘Swayamwar’ Copyright Judement

Copyright law, as generally under stood, is in essence concerned with the negative right of preventing the copying of physical material existing in the field of literature and art. Its object is to protect the writer and artist from the unlawful reproduction of his material. In an interesting and a path-breaking judgment delivered on the subject by Justice Vijender Jain on March 6, 2002 in Gupta vs. Dasgupta, reported in [2003] F.S.R. 18, the Hon’ble Court dealt with the aspect of granting interlocutory injunction for a limited period as springboard relief.

In this case the Plaintiff, a media consultant, conceived the idea of producing a reality television programme containing the process of match making to the point of actual spouse selection in which real, everyday, ordinary persons would participate before a TV audience. The Plaintiff devised a unique and novel concept of leaving it to the prerogative of a woman to select a groom from a variety of suitors. The Plaintiff decided to name the concept “Swayamwar,” knowing that a large number of people would associate the name with the idea of a woman selecting a groom in a public forum.

After developing the concept as a literary work under the Copyright Act, the same was registered on December 17, 1997. In June 1998, the Plaintiff, in his first meeting with the Defendant, disclosed the concept to him in confidence and gave him the concept note. At a second meeting the Plaintiff made a presentation of the “Swayamwar” concept and elaborated it as involving a specifically designed questionnaire to be distributed by the producer and television channel to elicit all personal details with photos, computerized matching of the data for the selection of participants, audio-visual clips of the participants, exchanging the candidate’s personal details to help selection and short listing for the show. The set was to reflect images and symbols of a wedding celebration, there was to be the help of astrologers, marriage counselors, psychologists, etc. In the selection process in the studio, the anchorwoman was to talk about marriage and the roles played by men and women, and marriage related games and rituals were to be included. At a further meeting, the Plaintiff handed the Defendant a proposal for five programmes, including “Swayamwar.” Subsequently, the Plaintiff also disclosed his “Swayamwar” concept to other television channels in confidence with a view to interesting them in the concept.

In July 2001, the Plaintiff saw a press article stating that Sony Entertainment Television would be launching a big budget reality show called “Shubh Vivah” which would provide a platform for matchmaking and that it would be like a Swayamwar, or marriage bureau, on television. Further information about the proposed programme convinced the Plaintiff that it replicated the information he had disclosed confidentially to the Defendant. A letter before action was sent to which the Defendant replied, stating that they had told the Plaintiff in their third meeting that they were already in the process of producing a programme based on the same theme.

The Plaintiff brought proceedings for an interlocutory injunction to prevent the Defendants from broadcasting their programmes. However it was contended by the Defendants that the “Swayamwar” concept was in the public domain and, because the concept note had been submitted to the copyright authorities, that all that the Defendants had been given was a very rough and preliminary note which could not amount to an original work; that such disclosure was not in confidence; and they denied that any presentation had been made to them. On consideration of the facts of the case, the Hon’ble Court granted an interlocutory injunction for a limited period of time as springboard relief. It was held that an idea, per se, has no copyright. But if the idea is developed into a concept fledged with adequate details, then the same is capable of registration under the Copyright Act.The novelty and innovation of the concept of the Plaintiff resides in combining of a reality show with a subject like match making for the purpose of marriage. Swayamwar,  as quoted in Indian mythology, is not a routine practice, so the originality lies in the concept of the Plaintiff in conceiving a reality TV programme of matchmaking and spouse selection.

On the issue of confidentiality, the Hon’ble Court remarked that when an idea or concept has been developed to a stage that it could be seen to be a concept which has some attractiveness so as to get an audience to watch a television programme, and it could be realized as an actuality, then the concept is capable of being the subject of a confidential communication. The Court further dismissed the plea that the Swayamwar concept, by reason of registration under the Copyright Act, had entered into the public domain as being without substance.

It is further relevant to quote a significant observation of the Court wherein it observed that “if the Defendants were allowed to show their own reality show based on the “Swayamwar” concept originally disclosed to them by the Plaintiff, they would be unjustly reaping the benefit of the labour of the Plaintiff in evolving and developing that concept. In such a case, the defendants should be placed under a special disability in the field of competition to ensure that they did not get an unfair start.”

The balance of convenience favoured the grant of an injunction, thus the Court restrained the Defendants from transmitting “Shubh Vivah” or any other programme having match making as its subject or theme for a period of four months. However the said direction was subject to the conditions that if the Plaintiffs are unable to transmit the “Swayamwar” programme within that period, the injunction would lapse but, in case the Plaintiffs transmit the programme within the four month period, the Defendants would be restrained for a further period of two months.

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