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Main findings in R.G Anand v. Deluxe Films (1978 SC) and its relevance today

Copyright is a bundle of rights given to the creator of work such as a book, a film, a song, or a piece of music, etc. Anything that a person creates using their intellect and creativity, a creator can claim copyright against it.

According to Indian Copyright Act, 1957 whenever a person knowingly tries to reproduce or republish a work of another creator without their due permission, then this counts as copyright infringement. Suppose a novel published by an author is to be turned into a movie then, only the author of the novel can grant permission to do so. Obtaining the creator's permission to convert a novel into a movie is considered copyright infringement because the copyright holder has exclusive rights to that intellectual property.

Section 51 of the Indian Copyright Act enumerates many instances that if any of those is committed by someone, then it will lead to infringement of copyright.

We understand what copyright is and what constitutes copyright infringement. But how can we know that what 'actually' constitutes copying? Ideas of two people may clash and result in a similar creation of work. Then in such cases where the individual did not have the intention to copy someone else's work, how can we solve this conflict?

Our Indian Copyright Act does not define what constitutes 'copying' or 'similarity' of work. The case of R.G Anand v. Deluxe films plays a very important role in this regard. In this case, Honourable Supreme Court laid down certain rules through which we can understand what is similarities and dissimilarities between the two works in question.

Facts of the case
In this case, X (plaintiff) wrote a play named "Hum Hindustani" which was enacted in theatres. Looking at the popularity of the play; Y (defendant) approached X intending to make a movie based on the same play and Y said that they will inform about their decision sometime later. But no reply was given by Y and X assumed that Y had changed their decision to not film it.

A few years later Y released a movie "New Delhi". After watching this movie X expressed his concerns to Y in writing that the movie "New Delhi" is copied from X's play "Hum Hindustani" and thus it is a matter of copyright infringement.

To which Y replied that both movie and the play were based on the same idea and concept of 'provincialism' but the movie was not based on the play because other important concepts incorporated in the movie were not a part of the play. Even after Y denied any similarity, X felt that the movie "New Delhi" was copied from "Hum Hindustani" and X sued Y for copyright infringement.

High Court held that there were very few similarities between the movie and the play to declare it as copyright infringement. And High court also held that even though both the play and the movie were based on the concept of "provincialism". The portrayal of that concept in the movie was different from the play. Dissatisfied with High Court's decision, X appealed to Supreme Court.

There were mainly two issues involved in the case:
  • Whether the movie was a literal copy of the play?
  • Whether a name of a person in a copyrightable work, can also be copyrighted?

The decision by Honourable Supreme Court
Supreme Court declared that the movie was not similar to the play, even though both the play and the movie revolved around the concept of "provincialism". But an idea itself cannot be subjected to copyright but the execution of that idea is what has a copyright value and hence the execution of that idea of provincialism in the movie was very different than the execution of the same concept in the play, therefore there was no copyright infringement.

Supreme Court also ruled that a name in a copyrightable material cannot be copyrighted.
Honorable Supreme Court laid down the following seven rules to thoroughly understand the similarity between two works that can lead to copyright infringement:
  1. Only the execution of a particular idea, subject matter, fact, the theme can be copyrighted and not the theme or idea itself.
  2. To constitute the fact that infringement of copyright is committed the nature of copied material should be substantial and literal
  3. If an ordinary reasonable person after viewing both creations in question; concludes that one work is the copy of another, then it will be concluded as copyright infringement. This is also known as the 'Test of ordinary observation', which was originally laid down in the American case of Daly v. Palmer [1]. If the concept of the two works is similar but the execution of that concept is done differently then no question of copyright infringement will arise.
  4. If there is much dissimilarity between the two different works which clearly shows no intention of copying then no copyright infringement arises.
  5. The party said that there exists some copyright infringement will have to prove the same.
  6. Even though the execution stage of a movie is much greater than that of a stage play but if a person feels that it is a copied work then infringement of copyright is said to have been established.

Relevancy of the case in present time
This case has been used as a precedent in several cases because of the Test of Substantial Similarity, which was laid down in this landmark judgment.

With the advent of technology; OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon prime, and also websites like YouTube. Showcase different adaptations of inspiration-related work. On the one side where people can enjoy such sites for their entertainment, another side of the coin points to the fact that in deep Internet waters such creative works are at a high risk of being copied in the name of 'inspiration' without permission from the original creator.

This is where the test comes in and helps the creators protect their rights related to their intellectual property. Though nowadays adaptations based on novels and stories etc. are made after attaining due permission and valid license from the original creators. Movies such as Harry Potter, 3 idiots, Dil Bechara, Lord of Rings are all under licensing agreements with the authors that give others the right to reproduce or adapt their work in different forms.

In the Case of M.R.F Ltd v. Metro Tyres Ltd [2], Delhi High Court adopted the test laid down in the case of R.G Anand, to determine whether or not there are similarities between the two ads.

In the recent case of VinayVats v/s Fox Star Ltd [3], the Delhi High court said that; when the theme or concept of two or more books or two movies is similar then it's obvious that there will be some similarities but the test of the reasonable man is imperative to establish material similarities between the two. This case of R.G Anand has been used many times when similar issues emerge and will stay relevant till times to come.

  1. Cas, 1132 CCSDNY 1868
  2. (2019) SCC Online 8973 (India)
  3. IA 6351/2020 in CSCOMM 291/2020 (India)

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