Madras High Court refuses to grant any interim reliefs in a title infringement suit against Rajnikanth’s ‘Kaala’ [ READ ORDER]

The Madras High Court vide its order dated April 19, 2018 refused to grant any interim reliefs in a suit filed by K.S. Rajasekaran seeking to stall the release of the Rajnikanth starrer ‘Kaala’ over a title infringement dispute. The Court reiterated the principle that there is no copyright in a title. [Read order here]

The Plaintiff, K.S. Rajasekaran @ K.S.Nagaraja, Proprietor of M/s. GSR Vinmeen Creations, Chennai, had filed the suit against The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC), M/s. Wonderbar Films Private Limited, P.A. Ranjit, Film Director and Shivaji Rao Gaikward @ Rajinikanth.

The suit was filed seeking interim injunction, restraining the Respondents / Defendants, from conducting any shooting or making any shooting in progress of the motion picture and from releasing the film in any mode, which is titled as ‘KARIKALAN’, by affixing the same after the main title ‘KAALA’ by way of either sub title or surname to the main title or in any other name for the same story, till the disposal of the suit. The Plaintiff further sought declaration that the Plaintiff is the owner of the title and story in KAALA @ KARIKALAN or KARIKALAN @ KAALA and its story, modifying life of earlier Chola Emperor, Karikalan to suit the modern life of a hero, reforming the evil activities of others in the Society.

The Plaintiff had originally filed a suit before City Civil Court seeking reliefs that certain rules of the SIFCC be declared null and void which resulted in the title registration of the Plainitff lapsing for non-renewal and further that injunction be granted against the defendants as mentioned above. However, the trial court directed that the plaint be re-presented in a court of competent jurisdiction and held that the Court, which could actually try the lis amongst the parties was the original side of the Madras High Court. The relief before the Madras High Court was amended to include the second relief relating to permanent injunction to include the words ‘release the film in any mode in any language’ since the shooting of the movie had been completed and the production was at an advanced stage and the film could be released at any time.

The Plaintiff claimed to have written the story as per his imagination adopting the knot and history of Chola Emperor, Karikalan, somewhere in the year 1991-92. The Plaintiff claimed to have registered the title ‘Karikalan’ with SIFCC in 1994. However, he did not renew the title nor commenced production of the story written by him which resulted in the title registration lapsing as per the rules of SIFCC. The Plaintiff claimed that the story belonged to him and was created by him.

The Court observed “There could also be no restriction for using the name KARIKALAN in any manner whatsoever since it signifies the name of much revered Chola King and there could be no right exercised over such a name. If this is upheld, then there could be no art form either in the form of a movie or in the form of a drama or in the form of a story, using the name, KARIKALAN. This would also mean that the history of Karikalan could also not be projected in any form whatsoever in media or by any person. This would certainly be detrimental to the interest of the Society as Karikalan was an Emperor, who is held in esteemed position, by the Society in Tamil Nadu and it is only just that the name is glorified.”

With respect to the Plaintiff arraying Rajnikanth as a defendant, the Court observed that
the 4th Defendant is only an Actor in the movie and if the 4th Defendant has to be included in the cause title, the Plaintiff should have included all the listed actors in the movie. No specific reasons have been given why he has included the 4th Defendant alone and excluded all the other actors. The Plaintiff cannot choose the Defendants.”

The Court further relied on several judgements including the Supreme Court’s decision in the Desi Boyz case i.e. Krishika Lulla and others v. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta and another, [(2016) 2 SCC 521] which held that that there is no copyright in respect of a title. In that case, the Supreme Court was considering the title “Desi Boyz” of the film released by the appellants on a story written by Milap Zaveri. The Supreme Court observed that the words “Desi” and “Boys” were quite common in India and their combination also produced a commonly understood expression. The words were, therefore, not protectable either on the basis of copyright or trade mark, or in passing off action.

The Court further relied on the case of E.M. Forster Vs A.N Parasuram, which was a suit filed by E.M. Forster for alleged infringement of copyright in the title of his book ‘A Passage to India’, the adoption of the title ‘E.M. Forster, A Passage to India, Everyman’s Guide’ by the defendant was held not to infringe copyright as there was no copyright in respect of the title.

The Court further relied on the Delhi High Court’s decision in Kanungo Media (P) Ltd vs RGV Film Factory where the Delhi High Court had held that:

“What, therefore, follows is that if a junior user uses the senior user’s literary title as the title of a work that by itself does not infringe the copyright of a senior user’s work since there is no copyright infringement merely from the identity or similarity of the titles alone.”

The Court then relied on the case of R.Radhakrishnan v. A.R.Murugadoss and the Film and Television Producers Guild of South India, reported in AIR 2014 Mad 25, where the question was whether the respondent could be injuncted from using the title of the applicant’s film. The Madras High Court had relied on the principle laid down in the Kanungo Media case and held that the applicant had no case on the copyright in respect of the title ‘Raja Rani’.

The Court also relied on the Kanungo Media case (supra) and the Madras High Court’s recent  case in Lyca Productions vs J.Manimaran (covered here and here) to reiterate the principle that there is no copyright in the title of a literary work or a cinematograph film.

The Court refused to grant any interim relief on the ground that the suit suffered from misjoinder of causes of action and the two reliefs sought by the Plaintiff could not be clubbed together and examined with one piece of evidence.  The Court found the balance of convenience to be against the Plaintiff. Since the defendants have completed the shooting, the court held that on comparing the hardship caused, the hardship that would be caused to the Defendants by an order of interim injunction would far outweigh any other loss. The Court also held that the Plaintiff had failed to make out a prima facie case, particularly since he did not produce the registration certificate or the story lines of the movie ‘Kaala’ which according to him he had written. The Court said ‘When the Plaintiff had not produced the registration, naturally he cannot claim any exclusive right over the name, ‘KARIKALAN’.

Image source: here