Delhi High Court: In a case wherein the plaintiff, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust filed the suit to seek protection against copyright infringements of its works, Prathiba M. Singh, J.* noted that piracy had been done in several of the languages in which the plaintiff’s works were published and opined that such piracy of the copyrighted works of the plaintiff could not be permitted, and if such piracy went unchecked, the copyright in the said works would result in loss of revenue to the plaintiff. Thus, the Court granted an ad interim injunction, thereby restraining the defendants from printing, reproducing, communicating, disseminating any part of the plaintiff’s works, to the public either in print form or in audio-visual form or in electronic form including through websites, mobile applications, weblinks, Instagram posts or any other posts on the social media as would result in the infringement of plaintiff’s copyright.
The plaintiff was established by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ‘Srila Prabhupada’ (‘Author’), who was a renowned scholar, philosopher, cultural ambassador, prolific author, religious leader, spiritual teacher, a social critic, and was credited with the establishment of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (‘ISKCON’). The Author had spread the message from various Hindu scriptures by way of many publications and the copyright in all the works which had been based on the Authors teachings, writings, lectures and preaching vested with the plaintiff. The plaintiff also had numerous copyright registrations granted by the Copyright Office, for its works.
The plaintiff had made the said works available to the public through its various religious establishments and through online platforms. These works were originally copyrighted works, the plaintiff earned royalty from sale and commercial exploitation of the said works. The plaintiff’s grievancewas that Defendants 1 to 4 were websites which were making available a large number of the plaintiff’s copyrighted works almost in a verbatim manner on their online platforms. Defendants 5 to 9 were mobile applications which were making available the plaintiff’s copyrighted works to the public without the consent and permission of the plaintiff. Further, Defendants 10 to 14 were Instagram handles where the copyrighted works were being uploaded and communicated to the public through various links. Defendant 15 was Google LLC which was making available the infringing mobile applications on its Google play store; Defendant 16 was Meta Platforms Inc. which runs the Instagram platforms where the infringing Instagram handles were making available the infringing copies of the copyrighted works.
The plaintiff contended that it was engaged in many charitable activities and one of the main sources was the royalties earned from the copyrighted works of the Author. The plaintiff submitted that it must not be deprived of the revenues from the sale and distribution of these works to the public and that the reproduction of works by defendants ought to be injuncted as they did not have any license or right to reproduce, communicate and disseminate the copyrighted works.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court observed that some of the platforms revealed that there was large-scale infringement that had been carried out in reproduction of substantial number of copyrighted works of the plaintiff. The Court noted that piracy had been done in several of the languages in which the plaintiff’s works were published.
The Court opined that “there can be no doubt that Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is one of the most revered ancient scriptures in the world. The Bhagavad Gita along with the other scriptures like Bhagavatam which are written about by the Author are all `public domain’ works. There can be no copyright claimed in the Scriptures. However, any adaptations of the said work including providing explanation, summary, meaning, exegesis/interpretation or creating any audio visual works for e.g., television series like Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana or B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata; dramatic works created by drama societies based on scriptures etc., being transformative works, would be entitled to copyright protection, being original works of the Authors themselves”. Thus, the Court opined that there could be no objection in the actual reproduction of the text of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita or similarly other spiritual books. However, the manner in which the same was interpreted by different gurus and spiritual teachers being varied in nature, copyright would vest in respect of the original parts of the literary works which preach, teach or explain the scripture.
The Court noted that books made available by the defendants were complete reproductions of the works of the plaintiff, and that there were not merely the reproductions of the original scriptures as it is, i.e., the shlokas but their अनुवाद (Anuvaad) and तात्पर्य (Tatparya), summary, introduction, preface, cover etc., had all been reproduced.
The Court opined that such piracy of the copyrighted works of the plaintiff could not be permitted, and if such piracy went unchecked, the copyright in the said works would result in loss of revenue to the plaintiff. Thus, the Court granted an ad interim injunction and stated that the balance of convenience lied in favour of the plaintiff and irreparable injury would be caused to the plaintiff if the interim injunction was not granted.
Further, the Court issued the following directions —
Defendants 1 to 14 were restrained in any manner from printing, reproducing, communicating, disseminating any part of the plaintiff’s works, to the public either in print form or in audio-visual form or in electronic form including through websites, mobile applications, weblinks, Instagram posts or any other posts on the social media as would result in the infringement of plaintiff’s copyright.
Defendants 15 and 16 were to take down the infringing mobile applications from their respective platforms And Defendant 17, Godaddy.com LLC was directed to immediately block and suspend the domain name/website.
The matter would next be listed on 12-03-2024.
*Judgment authored by: Justice Prathiba M. Singh
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Plaintiff: Mr. Saikrishna Rajagopal, Ms. Deepshikha Sarkar and Ms. Bhanu, Advocates
For the Defendants: Mr. Debarshi Dutta, Mr. Mrinal Ojha, Mr. Anand Raja, Mr. Tanya Chaudhry and Mr. Shivam Tiwari, Advocates