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Understanding Copyright Infringement: Key Insights & Lessons from Enthiran's case

Case Analysis of Aarur Tamilnadan v. S. Sankar's case



Summary


The Madras HC rejected claim that the Tamil movie “Enthiran” had infringed the rights of the literary work “Jugiba” authored by the plaintiff. “


In coming to the conclusion, the Court relied on the following:


(i) plaintiff’s failure to bring the court’s attention to “Enthiran’s” storyline;


(ii) plaintiff’s failure to examine independent witnesses who could testify to the similarities of “Jugiba” and “Enthiran”;


(iii) existence of several dissimilarities between “Jugiba” and “Enthiran”, thereby rejecting the plaintiff’s infringement claims.


To deliver its verdict the Court relied on the Hon’ble SC’s judgement in R G Anand v. Delux Films (1978 ) 4 SCC 118 wherein, it was held that there can be no copyright in an idea or a concept, and that if a copyrighted work is adapted into a very different form, having a different tone, tenor or expression, so as to infuse a new life into the adapted work, then mere similarity of idea, theme, concept is not sufficient to constitute a case of copyright infringement.



Facts of the Case


Aarur Tamilnadan (the plaintiff) claimed he wrote a Humanoid Robot story called ‘Jugiba’ , which was published in a Tamil monthly magazine ‘Iniya Udayam’ in April 1996.


S. Sankar, Director of the impugned film, “Enthiran”, (1st defendant) made the movie in Tamil & other languages. The said movie was produced by Sun Pictures (2nd defendant), and Lyca Pictures (3rd defendant).


The plaintiff claimed that Enthiran's story is based on ‘Jugiba’, and hence claimed for damages. The 1st defendant claimed that a Humanoid Robot's story is several decades old, and many movies in the past have described Humanoid Robot. He claimed the movie "Enthiran" is his original work.



Issues before the court.


The issues before the court were to decide if “Enthiran” constituted an infringement of “Jugiba”, and if it was indeed a case of infringement, then should the plaintiff be allowed remedies as claimed for?



Arguments presented


The plaintiff submitted a brief narration of Jugiba’s story, which was about a Humanoid Robot falling in love with a girl, and after realizing that a romantic relationship cannot arise between a body of metal and a body of flesh, the Humanoid Robot commits suicide.

The plaintiff also submitted “viewer testimony” via letters couriered by certain viewers who claimed similarities between “Jugiba” and “Enthiran”.


The plaintiff argued that S. Sankar had claimed that the idea of ‘Enthiran’ was conceived around 2000, and that the plaintiff published ‘Jugiba’ in 1996. (The plaintiff, perhaps hoped to benefit from indicating closeness of publication and conception to indicate a nexus between the two works).


However, as per the defendant’s counsel, the Humanoid Robot’s story has been in existence for decades & many Hollywood films were shot based on the concept. They argued that no person can claim copyright over the story idea of a Humanoid Robot.


The defendant’s counsel also pointed out that the “viewer testimonies” were sent through couriers which were numbered continuously thus indicating that such assessments may have been a result of conspiracy, and therefore were concocted evidence.


Further, the defendant’s counsel also pointed out that the plaintiff failed to examine any person who had read “Jugiba” and viewed “Enthiran” to establish similarities for constituting a case of infringement.



Judgement


After due consideration of the arguments presented and the evidence adduced, the Court came to the conclusion that there was no infringement. In particular, the court observed as follows:


1. Copyrighted works coming from common sources may have some commonalities, but if the dissimilarities are substantial, it cannot constitute infringement.


2. The concept of Humanoid Robots had been used in multiple Hollywood movies created in prior to both Jugiba and Enthiran, even though the plaintiff claimed to have only heard them, but not seen them.


3. Plaintiff himself had admitted that the defendants have made numerous additions to his story to suit the cinema audience, which established for the court that “Enthiran” had sufficient dissimilarities. (Even though the plaintiff may have assumed addition of cinematic elements to be a valid excuse that doesn’t take away similarities, it was fatal for the plaintiff, in reality, because such admission indicated acceptance of dissimilarities for the purposes of disproving infringement).


4. The court observed that compared to Jugiba’s Story, the dissimilarities in “Enthiran” were as follows:


4.1 Enthiran had multiple characters while Jugiba had only 3 characters.


4.2 Enthiran had a Humanoid Robot which acquired the face of its inventor, unlike Jugiba’s story.


4.3 Enthiran’s Humanoid was invented to serve Army, unlike Jugiba’s story, wherein the Humanoid was invented to serve the entire world.


4.4 Enthiran’s Humanoid was created for good purposes, but it is re-programmed by the villain to start behaving like a bad Humanoid; although later, the Humanoid is fixed and returns to its good ways, unlike Jugiba’s story, where the Humanoid ultimately committed suicide realizing that it cannot get the love of a human being.


4.5 The plaintiff did not produce any material to compare the storyline of “Enthiran” with “Jugiba”.


4.6 The plaintiff failed to examine any independent witnesses to prove that “Enthiran” is a literal imitation of “Jugiba”.


4.7 It must be noted that even though Enthiran’s Humanoid Robot does fall in love with a girl like Jugiba’s story, but this is only a minuscule element of Enthiran, unlike Jugiba’s story, wherein the process of falling in love and being spurned itself is the predominant storyline.


Conclusion


Thus, owing to the well-laid down principle that copyright does not exist in an idea, concept, or a theme, and because there existed a number of dissimilarities between the two works, along with a lack of sufficient evidence adduced by the plaintiff, the court reached the conclusion that there was no case of infringement. Accordingly, the suit was dismissed and the remedies prayed for were rejected. Justice S. Sounthar held that no merit was found and the plaintiff was directed to pay the cost of the suit to the defendants.



Lessons for Creators, Scriptwriters and Film Makers


It is best to take the advice of an entertainment and IP lawyer who can advise on the feasibility of succeeding on an infringement claim if you feel that your idea has been infringed. Chances are that it may not really be an infringement if the final packaging is significantly different from the packaging of your idea. Mere resemblance of a sequence, or a single plot point, or existence of few commonalities are not sufficient to constitute a case of infringement. The law encourages free sharing and exchange of ideas. Therefore, one may adopt the thumb rule that it is less likely to be an infringement owing to the foregoing. Only where a work appears to be merely touched up a little without changing anything else, is it possible to succeed on infringement.


Also, it’s vital to compare the storyline of both your work as well as the infringing work and have the same evaluated by lawyers and individuals in the media and entertainment sector. If there is indeed a case of infringement, it will become necessary to plead the comparison as well as the testimonies of said individuals as to their impressions of commonalities, as evidences for proving infringement. If by a simple comparison, and based on impressions of said individuals – it becomes apparent that the two works in question are dissimilar, then it’s best to avoid prosecuting infringement as it may just end up being a monetary loss.


Humanoid Robot falling in love with a girl. I saw it first on Edward Scissorhands.


Image from here


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