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Bombay HC dismisses ZEEL’s copyright violation case against Sony

MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court dismissed ZEEL’s notice of motion against Sony Pictures Networks India alleging copyright infringement of its reality show ‘India’s Best Dramebaaz’.

ZEEL contended that Sony’s ‘Sabse Bada Kalakar’ was copied from its reality show ‘India’s Best Dramebaaz’. It also alleged that Sony had infringed its copyright in its concept note and ‘production bible’.

However, the bench of Justice GS Patel dismissed ZEEL’s motion, observing that the two production bibles were quite distinct in terms of the selections and trajectories of the two shows.

He also stated that ZEEL could not claim copyright over generic ideas. “The fact that both feature children, the fact that both seek out children with acting talent, the fact that they seek out children with acting talent from different cities, and the fact that they seek out the best of these is hardly something in which anyone can claim any copyright,” he said in the order.

He quoted the order of Bombay High Court SJ Vazifdar in an action by Zee seeking a restraint in respect of its popular ‘Antakshari’ show. Justice Vazifdar had stated that the idea could be claimed as a copyright only if it was ‘novel and original’.

The current dispute goes back to 23 March 2016, when Zee entered into a production agreement with Frames. This was a work for hire and Frames was engaged as the producer of this show. The sets for the programme were to be designed by Frames in coordination with Zee’s creative team.

ZEEL stated that on 15 November 2016 a representative of Frames emailed the company saying that they wanted to pitch a new show called ‘Nautanki Ke Superstars’. It was then that Zee noticed that this was nothing but a copy of its ‘Dramebaaz’ show with some small tweaks, the company said.

Zee felt this was a colourable imitation of ‘Dramebaaz’. It also claimed that Frames told Zee that it woukd not pursue this any further. In January 2017, Zee wanted to launch the third season of ‘Dramebaaz’. Zee’s Rajesh Iyer contacted Frames’ Ranjeet Thakur. However, Thakur said that Frames had ‘sold’ the concept to Sony.

The bench noted that the word ‘sold’ here was used loosely as Frames had nothing to sell.

What was intended to be conveyed was that Frames would go to work at Sony as a producer for a show which, according to Zee, it believed was to be called ‘Nautanki Ke Superstars’, the bench noted.

Zee wrote to Sony on 11 January this year, stating that the concept of ‘Nautanki Ke Superstars’ was a copy of Zee’s ‘India’s Best Dramebaaz’.

Responding to ZEEL, Sony clarified that it had not engaged Frames for any show called ‘Nautanki Ke Superstars’ and that it did not have any show based on Zee’s ‘Dramebaaz’ shows, either season 1 or 2.