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Indian Case Summary

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. … vs Mr. Santosh V.G. on 13 April, 2009 – Case Summary

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In the case of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. vs Mr. Santosh V.G. on 13 April 2009, the Delhi High Court presided over a significant copyright dispute. The plaintiffs, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and its associated companies, accused the defendant, Mr. Santosh V.G., the proprietor of Cinema Paradiso, of infringing their copyrights by renting out copies of their films in India.

Facts of the Case

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and its associated companies, who are involved in the business of film production, claimed that they own, co-own, or hold licenses for the copyrights of the films produced by them. They alleged that Mr. Santosh V.G., through his business Cinema Paradiso, was infringing their copyrights by hiring out copies of their films in India.

Cinema Paradiso, which operates from four premises, offers two categories of memberships: individual and corporate. The defendant charges a refundable caution deposit and a processing fee, followed by a rental fee for each title rented. The plaintiffs alleged that several DVDs rented out by the defendant bear the warning that they are not permitted for sale or rental outside the U.S. and Canada.

Issues Raised

The defendant disputed the plaintiffs’ claims, arguing that being associates and affiliated companies of assignees or co-owners of copyright in films is insufficient to authorize the plaintiffs to maintain the suit. The defendant also argued that the hire or circulation of a cinematographic film cannot per se be infringement without considering the circumstances in which the hire or circulation is made or its purposes.

The defendant further argued that providing entertainment is a part of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, when a business seeks to exercise its fundamental right to provide entertainment as part of its freedom of speech and expression, limitations should be restricted to those based on societal needs and benefits.

Court’s Observations

The court observed that the plaintiffs had the exclusive right to make a copy of the film, to sell or give on hire or offer for sale or hire, any copy of the film, and to communicate the film to the public. The court also noted that the plaintiffs had produced CDs and other documents to support their claims.

The court framed several issues for consideration, including whether the giving on hire or rent in India, by the defendant, copies of cinematograph films, authorized for sale or rental only in a particular territory outside India, in which cinematograph films the plaintiff claims copyrights, constitutes infringement under Section 51(a) (i) of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The court also considered whether the restriction on the defendant to conduct the rental business in India, using a copy of a cinematograph film procured from outside India which is authorized for sale or rental in a particular territory outside India only, without a license from the copyright owner, would amount to infringement of the Fundamental Rights, guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India.

The court’s decision on these issues would determine the outcome of the case. If the plaintiffs succeed, the defendant would have the liberty to raise other issues in the suit. Conversely, if the plaintiffs do not succeed, the suit could be finally decided.