SAMEER WADEKAR AND ANOTHER V. NETFLIX ENTERTAINMENT SERVICES PVT. LTD

CITATION: 2020 SCC Online Bom 659

JUDGE: K.R. Shriram J.

PLAINTIFF: Sameer Wadekar and Another

DEFENDANT: Netflix Entertainment Services Pvt. Ltd.


INTRODUCTION

The Plaintiff, a writer filed the case against the Defendants on the grounds that the Defendants have infringed his copyrighted literary work ‘VETAAL’ and are making a web series with the name ‘BETAAL’. The case was brought in 2020 after Plaintiff came across Defendants advertisement that was promoting their web series. The Plaintiff claimed that he sent his work to Wilson Louis who wanted to make a film on his script ‘VETAAL’, Wilson Louis has contacts in Netflix and through him his work has been copied. However, during the hearing in the Court Defendant failed to establish any link between Wilson Louis and Netflix.

The Defendant’s also contended that they started promoting their work from 2019, but Plaintiff showed their advertisement only in 2020 and so the Plaintiff cannot contend that he was not aware, because their promotion advertisements were printed and published in public domain. The Defendant’s further contended that the title of their web series is taken from the Hindu Mythology ‘VEDALAM’ which is a well-known story.


FACTS

The Plaintiff is a writer, he is registered with ScreenWriters Association. In 2013-2014, Plaintiff wrote his literary work with the title ‘VETAAL’, which he registered with ScreenWriters Association and Copyright Office in 2015. Defendant no.1 is Distributor, Defendant no.2 is Producer, Defendant no.3 is Writer and Defendant no.4 is the Director of the web series ‘BETAAL’, they released this on OTT Platform Netflix as ‘a Original Series’. The Plaintiff watched the 146 seconds trailer of ‘BETAAL’ and found around 13 similarities in the video trailer with that of Plaintiff’s copyrighted work in ‘VETAAL’. According to Plaintiff, the defendants have infringed his copyrighted work. The Defendants planned to release the web series ‘BETAAL’ on 24.05.2020. The Plaintiff pleaded before the Court to restrain the release of web series by ad-interim injunction.


ISSUES

The issues discussed in this case are:

  1. Its similarity in depiction on the web series results in infringement of the Copyrighted work of the Plaintiff.

  2. Should the Court grant ad-interim injunction to the Plaintiff and restrict the release of the web series ‘BETAAL’


CONTENTIONS OF THE PLAINTIFF

The counsel for the Plaintiff contended before the Court that ‘VETAAL’ is the original work of the Plaintiff, which is based on the fictional story. The Plaintiff wrote the story using his imagination that included props, characters and locations.

The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants have infringed his copyrighted work as the Defendants in their video trailer of ‘BETAAL’ have depicted scenes in different manner but the projection is similar to Plaintiff’s copyrighted work ‘VETAAL’. When the Court asked Plaintiff if ‘VETAAL’ is Plaintiff’s original work, how did Defendant's copy his work. To this the Plaintiff claimed that the Plaintiff sent his Copyrighted work to many well known and established producers. He also sent his work to Wilson Louis who is a film maker/director, according to Plaintiff he had some contacts in Netflix. Wilson Louis was determined to make the film on ‘VETAAL’, as contended by the Plaintiff.

The Counsel for Plaintiff Mr. Kadam submitted Exh.B before the Court which is the email conversations between the Plaintiff and Wilson Louis. The Court did not find any link that Wilson Louis had contacts in Netflix and thus the Court said that it is difficult to believe that Plaintiff’s original work was copied.


CONTENTIONS OF THE DEFENDANTS

The Defendants gave their contention in two points. Firstly, on 16th and 17th July 2019 the defendant made several prints and publications online in various media platforms to promote their web series whereas the Plaintiff only came across the advertisement of ‘BETAAL’ on 7th May, 2020. Plaintiff cannot argue that he was unaware about the advertisement as the press release and publications were in public domain.

Moreover, the Defendants contended that the word ‘BETAAL’ originates from the word ‘VEDALAM’ which is relevant in Hindu Mythology and thus it can be said that many people might know the story of Vikramaditya and Vetaal and the belief that is associated with the name Vetaal is that the name Vetaal is like mastery of supernatural powers and thus Defendant contended that the Plaintiff cannot be granted ad-interim injunction.


JUDGMENT

  • The Court denied the Plaintiff from granting any relief that was prayed before the Court.

  • After being satisfied with Defendant’s contention, the Court dismissed the Interim Application of the Plaintiff.

  • The Court allowed the Defendants to release their web series ‘BETAAL’.

  • The Counsel for Plaintiff Mr. Kadam seek the leave of the Court to take the application and amend the plaints to add claim and damages. The Court granted the leave and said that the application will be disposed of on merit after it is heard. The court granted 8 weeks to file a written statement, in view of lockdown.


CONCLUSION

The Court denied the Interim application of the Plaintiff and allowed Defendant’s to release their web series ‘BETAAL’ on 3 grounds: First, the Plaintiff failed to establish the link that Wilson Louis had contacts in Netflix and therefore Plaintiff’s contention that his copyrighted work was copied did not satisfy the Court. Moreover, it was observed by the Court that the Plaintiff delayed in bringing the case to Court, even though the Defendant’s through various print media and online publications started promoting their web series. Lastly, the Defendants were able to show that the word ‘BETAAL’ comes from Hindu Mythology ‘VEDALAM’ which is a popular story.



This article is written by Menesa Kandulna of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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