In the case of Samir Kasal v. Prashant Mehta & Ors. (CS(COMM) 39/2022) dated 19.01.2022, the Delhi High Court held that the game of cricket cannot be granted protection under copyright.
Samir Kasal (hereinafter referred to as the “Plaintiff”) is a well-known personality in the sports industry and has established himself as a leader in the field over the years. The Plaintiff envisioned an International Cricket League with novel features.
In the said International Cricket League, prominent retired cricket players would play T20 cricket but compete in a test format match with two innings of ten overs each, for each of the teams respectively. The Plaintiff intended to stage these cricket tournaments in non-cricket playing countries, and utilise the enthusiasm of the Indians having an interest in cricket and living in those non-cricket-playing countries.
The Plaintiff began developing the concept with a company, namely, 911 Marketing & Media Pvt. Ltd. The Director of the company, Prashant Mehta (hereinafter referred to as the “Defendant”), was in charge of providing the logistics and supporting staff for the project.
Subsequently, the Defendant approached the Defendant No. 2 (hereinafter collectively referred to as the “Defendants”) in present matter, for investing in the said project and in the light of the same, the Defendant No. 2 was given the format and information regarding the league in a discrete and confidential manner.
After several discussions, the Plaintiff and the Defendants formed a company named ‘Legends Premier League Sports Pvt. Ltd.’, which was thereafter incorporated on 13.06.2018, with the Plaintiff and the Defendant as the Director of the Company. The Plaintiff and Defendants collaborated on the concept’s development which was proposed by the Plaintiff. However, due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, no tournament could be held in the years 2020 and 2021.
However, soon after the Plaintiff discovered from the media that the Defendants were intending to organize a ‘Legends League Cricket’ tournament rather than the ‘Legends Premier League’ that the parties had agreed to. The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants misappropriated the Plaintiff’s original concept, and filed a petition claiming that this was a clear breach of confidentiality on the Respondent’s behalf, and infringement of copyright of the concept which was primarily developed by the Plaintiff.
ISSUES BEFORE THE HIGH COURT
1. Whether the Plaintiff can claim copyright for his ‘work’ within the scope of the Copyright Act, 1957?
2. Whether the Plaintiff can claim breach of confidentiality on part of the Defendants?
CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
The Plaintiff relied on the judgements of Anil Gupta v Kunal Dasgupta, 2002 SCC OnLine Del 250, Urmi Juvekar Chiang v. Global Broadcast News Ltd. 2007 SCC OnLine Bom 471, and Zee Telefilms ltd. Sundial Communications Pvt. Ltd. 2003 SCC OnLine Bom 344, and contended that the current act of the Defendant amounted to breach of confidentiality, and infringement of copyright of the concept developed by the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant No. 2 had dishonest intentions to cheat the Plaintiff and oust him from the project, and the same was substantiated vide several communications between the Defendants. Additionally, the Plaintiff contended that the Defendant No. 2 had discretely planned to create a new and separate company with the assistance of the others, and oust Defendant from the new company as the Defendant was trying to protect the interests of the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff asserted that the Defendant were now planning to conduct cricket tournaments based on the idea introduced by the Plaintiff, which would commercially benefit the Defendants. In the backdrop of the same, the Plaintiff claimed that the Defendants should be restricted from conducting the tournament scheduled 20.01.2022 onwards.
The Defendant contended that he had spent more than 2 crores from his pocket to execute the idea originated by the Plaintiff and honest efforts have been made by the Defendant to host the League with retired cricketers, the way the Plaintiff intended to host it. However, the Defendant No. 2 and others cheated the Defendant and has been treating him unfairly.
The Defendant relied on the judgment in MRF Limited v. Metro Tyres Limited, 2019 SCC OnLine Del 8973, and submitted that the original thought was not required to claim a copyright in a work. Thus, the Defendant stated that even if the concept of the cricket tournament was not original, the idea which was developed into the recognizable format by the Plaintiff amounted to being an ‘exclusive work’ and the same was required to be protected against infringement of copyright.
On the contrary, the Defendant No. 2 and others submitted that firstly, no contract has been signed between the Plaintiff and Defendant No. 2, and secondly, even if there was a breach, the remedy of the same could only be availed from Defendant.
Further, the Defendant No. 2 submitted that no interim relief can be granted to Plaintiff on the short ground of delay. In addition, the Defendant No. 2 argued that the idea was originally discussed way back in 2017-18, after which the Plaintiff did not take any steps to execute the project. Thereafter, even though the Plaintiff claimed that he got the news of the said tournament in November 2021, no steps were taken by the Plaintiff until 17.12.2021. Hence, the Defendant No. 2 contended that the intention behind the current application filed by the Plaintiff is monetary compensation only.
The Defendants asserted that the idea of T20 format was introduced in the year 1997 and hence, the present idea of conducting the tournament was not an original idea and cannot be considered as the original idea of the Plaintiff.
In addition to the foregoing, the concept of engaging retired cricket players in a tournament was also showcased in the year 2015 wherein ‘Exhibition Matches’ were held in the United States of America. Therefore, the concept of a tournament with retired cricket players was not authentic and novel either.
The Defendant lastly submitted that the concept of infringement of copyright can be only claimed on ‘completed work’ and as the Plaintiff’s work is not a ‘completed work’, no claim of copyright can be maintainable.
DECISIONS AND FINDINGS
In the present case, the Delhi High Court (hereinafter referred to as the “Court”) discussed the definition of the term ‘work’ as defined under Section 2(y) of the Copyright Act, 1957 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”) in order to understand if the Plaintiff’s act qualified as ‘work’ under Act, and Section 2(z) to conclude what constituted “work of joint authorship” under the Act. The Court held that the idea of the Plaintiff doesn’t fall under the ambit of ‘work’ as defined in the Act as it is not a literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic work, or a cinematographic film or a sound recording.
The Court observed that the idea of ten-over match of cricket was not novel as it dated back, and those of retired cricketers playing matches was also not new. Hence, the Plaintiff cannot claim exclusive right over it.
The Court placed reliance on the observations of the Supreme Court in R.G. Anand v. Delux Films, (1978) 4 SCC 118 and stated that all games of cricket would contain some type of features that were common or were developed from a similar notion. Therefore, the Court held that no one can claim copyright over the game of cricket.
The Court noted that the Plaintiff had the duty of proving that his notion was innovative enough to be protected, and the Plaintiff failed to do so. Most of the Plaintiff’s concepts already are existing and had been derived from or acquired in some way or another.
The Court observed that the Plaintiff and Defendant did not execute a proper contract that could have resulted in contractual obligations on the part of the other Defendants or third parties. The Court further noted that the Defendant No. 2 had not made any material investments in the venture – but had only guided the Plaintiff through the process.
With reference to the Plaintiff’s allegation of breach of confidence, the Court stated that such an obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the information could not be maintained permanently as the nature of the information requested to be kept confidential would be having a continuous prohibitive effect on the Defendant No. 2 as he was involved in organizing league matches otherwise.
The Court observed that the intentions of the Plaintiff are susceptive, as between 2018 and 2020, the Plaintiff did not contact the Defendants to proceed with the proposal, which further undermines his claims of confidentiality. The Court also placed reliance on CCE v. Alnoori Tobacco Products (2004) 6 SCC 186, and noted that, not only the Plaintiff was unable to explain why it took so long to approach the Court, no injunction can be granted knowing what such injunction will cause major harm to the Defendants.
In the backdrop of the aforementioned facts and circumstances, the Court dismissed the applications and held that the game of cricket cannot be protected under copyright.
Novelty and uniqueness are the essence acquiring protection under copyright. In the present case, the Plaintiff was unable to justify and prove the novelty in his idea of conducting the said cricket tournament with retired cricket players. With reference to the contentions of the parties, the Court observed that the only similarity between the Plaintiff’s and the Defendants’ concept of conducting the International Cricket Leagues was that both involved the game of the cricket, however none can claim copyright over it.
The Court has given a well-distinguished idea of when is a claim of copyright not maintainable. It is important to prove the novelty of the work which is intended to be protected under copyright, failing which, the same cannot be granted protected and can be subject to opposition or lead to potential disputes. Also, it is pertinent to note that even interim orders hold utmost importance and might cause irreparable loss of either parties if the order is not passed.
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