A Copyright Battle Between Sholay Media And Vodafone Essar - Delhi High Court

Author:Ms Sonam Lhamu Bhutia
Profession:LEX ORBIS

In Sholay Media & Entertainment Pvt. & Anr (Plaintiff) v Vodafone Essar Mobile Services Ltd. & Ors (Defendants); the copyright work of the film Sholay had been commercially exploited on mobile and digital platforms without obtaining any license or permission from the Plaintiffs. Therefore, the Plaintiffs sought for interim injunction against such infringement acts by the Defendants.

All the four Defendants to the suit contended to the interim injunction. The assignment of the rights were done in the following order:

Predecessor of the Plaintiff - vide deed of assignment dated 7th August, 1978, granted certain rights in the film Sholay to Polydor of India (now rights acquired by Universal Music India Pvt.Ltd- Defendant No.3) Universal has an agreement with Phonographic Performance Pvt.Ltd (PPL- Defendant No.4), a copyright society administering copyright in sound recordings for music companies. Vodafone Essar Mobile Services Ltd and Vodafone Essar Ltd (Defendants No. 1 and 2) were vide agreement dated 15th September, 2006 granted all rights for exploitation of sound recording on mobile cellular service by PPL. The Plaintiffs argued that the assignment extended to Universal pertained only to certain rights, i.e. (i) the right to make records for sale and distribution and (ii) the right to communicate the sound recordings by way of radio broadcast. The remaining rights were therefore still reserved by the Predecessor of the Plaintiff.

The main issue here was whether an absolute right to use the sound track including songs and music by way of ringtones, truetones, callback / caller tunes etc. (herein after referred to as "digital rights") were assigned to Polydor of India (Universal) vide Assignment Deed in the year 1978 or the right to use sound track on digital and mobile platform continued to rest in the Plaintiff company.

The Honorable Judge made the following observations:

In determining as to whether the assignment of the copyright in the sound recording to Polydor of India extended wholly or partially as per Section 18 of the Copyright Act depended solely on the construction of the term of the Assignment Deed, and opined that the contract could be interpreted both ways. 'Record' was defined to include disc, tapes or any other device as embodied, so as to be capable of being produced therefrom and all such devices as were known to the parties at the time of the assignment or sounds which could thereafter be developed or known. The Plaintiffs contended...

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