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The Bombay High Court on Friday declined to grant interim relief in a copyright infringement plea seeking to stay the worldwide release of Netflix horror series "Betaal" on May 24.
The order passed by Justice KR Shriram in a plea against Neflix and Red Chillies Entertainment, claiming that the "Betaal" series was allegedly based on an original screenplay "Vetaal".
The plea, filed by screenwriters Sameer Wadekar and Mahesh Gosavi (the plaintiffs) through advocate Viraj Kadam, submitted that the screenplay Vetaal had been copyrighted in 2015 with the Copyright Office in Delhi and also registered with the Screenwriters' Association.
The plaintiffs claimed that from a viewing of the 146 seconds "Betaal" trailer on YouTube, it could be discerned that the show was a copy of the plaintiff’s copyrighted "Vetaal", with atleast 13 similarities. In this regard, it was contented that, Netflix had infringed their registered copyright work.
The plaintiffs contended that this was a case of copyright infringement and plagiarism.
Therefore, the plaintiffs prayed to restrain Netflix from going ahead with the release scheduled for Sunday by passing an ad-interim order.
Countering the plaintiffs arguments, Senior Advocate Sharan Jagtiani argued for Netflix that the similarities highlighted by the screenwriters were mere ideas which are generic and that they do not have any copyrightable elements.
Adding on, advocate Hiren Kamod submitted for Red Chillies Entertainment that the Betaal web series can, by no stretch of imagination, be termed as either an adaption or a reproduction of the plaintiffs' work or its substantial parts.
It was contended that there was no similarity in the concept, narration, arrangement, characters, properties etc. as alleged by the plaintiff-screenwriters either.
To buttress their submissions regarding the Betaal makers having appropriated the original work of the plaintiffs, it was also submitted that the plaintiffs had shared their copyrighted work through email with a prominent director since he had contacts with Netflix.
The Court, however, as unconvinced of these submissions given that the emails exchanged back in 2016 did not show any link between the director approached by the plaintiffs and Netflix, contrary to claims by the plaintiffs.
The Court held,
"Therefore, I find it difficult to believe that so called original story written by plaintiff, can be copied by somebody else. This is one point which is against plaintiff getting any ad-interim relief as prayed for.
Bombay High Court
The Court also did not accept the plaintiffs' submissions to justify the delay in approaching the Court over the dispute.
In this regard, the plaintiffs had submitted that they were not aware of press releases concerning Betaal's release made as early as July 2019. While declining to accept this as an excuse, the Court pointed out that these press releases were in the public domain
Moreover, the Court took note that the conception of the story was rooted in a common tale part of Hindu mythology i.e. the stories of Vikramaditya and Vetaal.
With these observations, the Court proceeded to dismiss the plea to stay the release of he show. However, the Court has granted the plaintiffs the liberty to amend their application to include a claim and damages.