Copyright Dispute: Delhi High Court Defends Creative Freedom for ‘Shamshera’ OTT Release

In a recent legal battle, the Delhi High Court made a significant ruling by dismissing filmmaker Bikramjeet Singh Bhullar’s plea to temporarily halt the streaming of the movie “Shamshera” on Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms. Bhullar alleged that the film’s plot and theme closely resembled his work, ‘Kabu Na Chhadein Khet,’ and sought an interim order to prevent its streaming. The court’s decision sheds light on the complex intersection of creative rights, shared themes in Bollywood, and the challenging task of determining copyright infringement.

The heart of Bhullar’s claim lies in his assertion that “Shamshera” copied his copyrighted work, leading to a legal battle against Yash Raj Films and others involved in the film’s production. He contended that elements of his creation, including a period drama set in the 18th century and a father-son story with specific thematic elements, were imitated in “Shamshera.” Bhullar’s legal pursuit sought to establish that his work was being unfairly replicated, warranting an injunction against the film’s telecast on OTT platforms.

However, the court, led by Justice Jyoti Singh, delivered a nuanced judgment, rejecting Bhullar’s plea based on several critical considerations. The court’s primary argument rested on the notion that certain themes, such as period dramas and father-son narratives, are prevalent and recurring in Bollywood. In doing so, the court rejected the idea of granting a monopoly over these common elements, asserting that doing so would go against established legal principles.

The court’s reasoning extended beyond the specifics of Bhullar’s case, delving into the broader landscape of creativity within the Indian film industry. It emphasized that granting exclusive rights over widely used themes would stifle creativity and innovation, as such themes are integral to the storytelling fabric of Bollywood. The decision underscored the need to balance creative expression with the industry’s shared cultural and thematic elements.

Critical to the court’s decision was its analysis of the alleged similarities between Bhullar’s script and the film “Shamshera.” The court watched the movie, examined Bhullar’s script, and identified dissimilarities that outweighed the asserted similarities. Elements such as North Indian locations, burning oil, water, birds, stars for navigation, secret underwater tunnels, horses, ghaghra, and certain scenes were recognized as common and non-unique to Bhullar’s work. The judgment stressed that these elements have been utilized in movies for a considerable time and lack the necessary uniqueness to warrant copyright protection.

The court specifically addressed Bhullar’s claim of a unique father-son theme spanning two generations, emphasizing that such themes are pervasive in Bollywood. It noted that the character dynamics in “Shamshera” were distinct from Bhullar’s script, and the alleged similarities were insufficient to presume copyright infringement. The decision thus rejected Bhullar’s argument that the lead characters’ transformation from initially negative to positive was a unique aspect that had been copied.

The ruling further highlighted the court’s reluctance to grant an interim injunction, emphasizing that Bhullar had not established a prima facie case of copyright infringement. The court assessed that no irreparable loss would be caused to Bhullar if the film continued to be telecast on OTT platforms. The balance of convenience, according to the court, also favored Yash Raj Films.

While the court’s decision was focused on the specific case at hand, it carries broader implications for the Indian film industry. By rejecting the idea of a monopoly over common themes, the court encourages a more open and collaborative creative environment. It acknowledges that certain elements are intrinsic to Bollywood storytelling and should remain accessible to all creators.

In conclusion, the Delhi High Court’s rejection of Bikramjeet Singh Bhullar’s plea against the streaming of “Shamshera” marks a crucial moment in the legal discourse surrounding copyright and creative expression in Bollywood. The decision not only safeguards the industry’s creative vitality but also sets a precedent for future cases involving shared themes and narrative elements. As the main suit is scheduled for January 16, 2024, the court’s nuanced stance on copyright and common themes will likely continue to shape the trajectory of creative rights in the Indian film landscape.