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Right to sue for copyright infringement accrues when there is a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe; SC.

Supreme Court of India

Justice Ashok Bhushan & Justice Navin Sinha

The SC {M/S. ZEE TELEFILMS LTD. v. SURESH PRODUCTIONS & ORS.} holds that the cause of action to a plaintiff to file a suit accrues when there is a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe a right. It was held that the plaintiff having already assigned their right for a period of 9 years by assignment deed dated 23.12.1994, there was no cause of action during the aforesaid period of 9 years. When the plaintiffs had already parted with their right of telecasting films on 23.12.1994 there could not have been any threat to their right in the year 1995.

The SC in Daya Singh and another vs. Gurdev Singh (Dead) by Lrs. And others, (2010) 2 SCC 194, had laid down that a right to sue accrues when there is a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe a right of plaintiff. 

While dismissing the appeal, it was held that in view of the pleadings on the record and facts of the present case, suit filed by the plaintiffs was well within limitation, the finding of the High Court that the suit was within limitation is based on correct appreciation of facts and pleadings. 

In the present case, the plaintiffs have assigned telecasting right of 16 schedule films by 6 assignment deeds dated 23.12.1994 for a period of 9 years in favour of defendant No.5 to 8 as requested by defendant No.4. The plaintiffs issued a public notice in the Film Information Magazine on 27.09.2003 with respect to the above said 16 Hindi films. A legal notice from first defendant on 14.10.2003 in reply to the notice of the plaintiffs was received where defendant No.1 claimed that they have acquired satellite broadcasting, Pay TV and Cable TV rights of all above 16 Hindi films from defendant No.2, M/s. B.N.U. & Co. vide deed of assignment dated 21.03.1997 for a period of 99 years and that, M/s. B.N.U. & Co. had in turn acquired the said rights from M/s. Asia Vision, defendant No.3, vide agreement dated 16.03.1997. The first defendant called upon the plaintiffs to withdraw the said public notice. The plaintiffs sent reply dated 17.10.2003 refuting the facts in the notice of the first defendant. Thereupon, the plaintiffs filed Original Suit before the trial court for declaration that defendant Nos.1 to 4 have no manner of right, title and interest in the Copyright in respect of the scheduled films, to pass a decree of perpetual injunction against defendant Nos. 1 to 4. The trial court dismissed the suit as barred by law of limitation - which finding was set aside by the HC - and affirmed by the SC.

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