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Super Cassettes Industries v. SCN Sujla Channel

Super Cassettes Industries, popularly recognised as T-Series, is one of the largest music companies in the country, and owns a significant collection of copyrighted works that include cinematographic films and sound recordings. Recently in March 2017, a judgement was passed by the Delhi High Court in their favour against SCN Sujla Channel, on a charge of copyright infringement.

Super Cassettes Industries, the plaintiff, described itself as the first owners of copyrights in all the cinematographic films and sound recordings they produce by either acquiring the copyrights from authors or other prior owners of the copyright, or by commissioning in the production of these materials. As part of its business, it regularly licenses its copyrighted material to Broadcasting Organisations, Television Channels, FM Radio Stations and Cable Operators for distribution purposes.

The defendant is a ground cable operator that operates in Rajasthan that provides cable advertising and non-stop entertainment, and makes extensive use of Hindi songs/film extracts to enhance viewership, and increases revenue through advertising.

The plaintiff alleged that in the course of random monitoring to diligently protect its IP, it came across infringement of its copyrights by the defendant, and furnished a witness report to prove it. Popular Hindi song tracks were being broadcasted by the defendant without a valid license from the plaintiff under its T-Series Public Performance License (TPPL). The plaintiff maintained that it was the assignee of the copyright of the said works. The plaintiffs maintained that they attempted to amicably settle the dispute by informing the defendant of the TPPL, and sent a cease-and-desist letter dated 24.08.2015 by courier to the defendant when the infringement continued and also demanded Rs. 25 lakhs as damages. However, the Defendants did not reply to the said notice.

The plaintiffs filed a suit for copyright infringement against the defendants, and were awarded an ad interim injunction on 04.02.2016 in an ex-parte order. When the case was taken up by the High Court for a final judgement, the plaintiff further submitted evidence for the damages it sought. A website printout of its rate-cards for licensing its songs was furnished, on the basis of which it justified demanding Rs. 1 crore in damages. It went on to state that given that the defendant had “thousands” of subscribers, the loss in profits the plaintiff suffered as a result of copyright infringement could be calculated on the basis of their rate-card.

The Court found, upon examination of all the evidence submitted, that the plaintiff’s plea for copyright infringement was justified, and the evidence supported their claim. The Court found the Defendant guilty of ‘mischief’ under section 51 and section 52(A) of the Copyright Act, 1957. The Court stated that the Defendants, having indulged in illegal infringing activity affecting the commercial rights of the plaintiff in the copyrighted works, the defendants must not be allowed to get away with a mere grant of prohibitory injunction, and thus, punitive damages were justified. However, the Court found the plaintiff’s submission of the rate-card and its claim of the defendant having “several thousands” of connections (subscribers) as ‘vague’, and refrained from granting damages of the amount 1 crore, as was claimed by the plaintiff. The Court then directed the defendant to deliver the infringing material to the plaintiff, and also provide rendition of account of profits earned by illegal broadcast of the plaintiff’s copyrighted material, so that compensatory damages can be calculated later. It also awarded penal damages of Rs. 5 lakh in favour of the plaintiff.

The aforementioned sum seems to have become the standard amount for penalising a party where the case demands a penalty to be borne (eg. Justice Patel’s Phillauri Judgement). Rs. 5 lakh is a pittance, compared to the amount in royalties that the plaintiffs may have lost due to the infringement of their copyrighted material. However, in the absence of a stronger, clearer calculation of damages suffered, the awarding of compensatory damages is best left for after the defendant provides the plaintiffs an account of the illicit profits made.