In the case at hand, the plaintiff S Rajendra Singh Babu, is an experienced film producer and director with a significant body of work, including about 45 movies in Kannada and other languages. He claimed to have directed a Kannada movie titled ‘Bannada Gejje,’ in which he had used a popular song titled “Swathi Muttina Male Haniye.” The plaintiff asserted that he had commenced the production of a Kannada movie with the same title, “Swathi Muttina Male Haniye.” However, this project remained incomplete due to the passing of one of the lead actors, Ambareesh. The plaintiff claimed to have completed seventy percent of the movie. The plaintiff claimed that he had registered the title “Swathi Muttina Male Haniye” for his movie with the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC). He also issued a legal notice to KFCC, requesting that the title not be authorized for use by others.
The main issue in this case that was before the civil court in Bengaluru was whether to grant an injunction to prevent the release of the Kannada film “Swathi Muttina Male Haniye,” produced by M/s Applebox Studios LLP, founded by former Member of Parliament Divya Spandana, and vacate the ex-parte temporary injunction previously granted in favour of the plaintiff, as court found that he was unable to make out a prima facie case. The plaintiff failed to provide concrete evidence of copyright ownership over a single line of a song title, and the use of a song title as a movie title does not constitute copyright infringement, as established in relevant case law. Furthermore, the plaintiff could not confirm that the title was registered with the competent authority.
The court determined that the balance of convenience and comparative hardship favoured the defendants. The defendants had completed their movie and were about to release it, while the plaintiff’s movie was incomplete. Allowing the completed movie to be released would not cause hardship to the plaintiff, and any potential damages could be addressed through compensation if the plaintiff succeeded in the suit. Furthermore, copyright protection is generally granted to original works. The title of a song alone may not qualify as a complete work for copyright protection. Relevant case law supports the idea that using a song title as a movie title does not constitute copyright infringement.
Finally, the court found that the plaintiff did not make a prima facie case for copyright ownership of a song title. The plaintiff failed to establish that he had registered the title and could not demonstrate that the single line of the song title qualified as copyright material. Furthermore the court observed that not allowing the completed movie of the defendants to be released would cause more loss and hardship to them than to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s incomplete movie did not have a definite completion date, while the defendants were ready to release their movie. Also the court believed that the plaintiff’s incomplete movie and uncertainty about completion dates did not justify preventing the release of the defendants’ finished movie. The court concluded that the defendants, especially the fourth and fifth defendants, had presented sufficient grounds to vacate the ex parte temporary injunction. They had established ownership of the movie title and completed the film, which justified lifting the injunction. Based on its analysis, the court ruled in favour of the defendants and vacated the ex-parte temporary injunction, allowing the release of the Kannada film “Swathi Muttina Male Haniye.”
The court’s decision was grounded in the lack of a prima facie case for copyright ownership of the title, the completed status of the defendants’ movie, and the balance of convenience favouring the defendants. The court emphasized that the entire song would need to be copied for copyright infringement to be established. This ruling allowed the completed film to be released in theatres and highlighted the importance of registering titles with industry authorities to establish ownership rights.
Contributor: Muskkaan Verma