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Veere di Wedding or not

Anil Kapoor Film Co. Pvt. Ltd. (the Plaintiff) announced a film titled “Veere Di Wedding”, with Sonam and Kareena Kapoor playing the key roles. This film is currently under production and was expected to kick off mid 2016, but was pushed ahead.

Make My Day Entertainment (the Defendant) is a production house, producing a film “Veere Ki Wedding” with a similar sounding title, starring Jimmy Shergill which has been complete and is apparently geared up for release sometime in August.

In March, 2015, the Plaintiff registered his script titled “Veere Di Wedding” with the Film Writers’ Association (FWA). The script was also registered with the Indian Film and Television Producers’ Council (IFTPC) by June, 2015. This registration was also renewed, being initially valid only for a year. IFTPC apparently notified the Defendant of the Plaintiff’s rights in the title, post which the Defendant wrote to IFTPC regarding use of the title “Veere Ki Wedding” around March this year. This was when the Plaintiff first received knowledge of the making of such a film, although nothing was done of that till May.

The Plaintiff’s application was for an injunction for passing off in respect of a title of a film. The Defendant claimed that they had registered the title with Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPPA) and acquired copyright and trademark for the title. The Bombay High Court was of the view that no copyright subsists in the title of a literary work and the plaintiff or a complainant is not entitled to relief on such basis. The Court recognized that such a claim can only succeed if the classical trinity of “reputation/goodwill, misrepresentation and damage” is satisfied.

As for the question of how a “passing off” claim can apply to movie titles – such titles are indicative of a particular kind of a literary work. In Kanungo v. RGV, the Court deciding a similar question regarding movie titles, quoted McCarthy on Trademarks & Unfair Competition, “In general, such titles are protected according to fundamental tenets of trademark and unfair competition law. That is, such titles cannot be used by a junior user in such a way as to create a likelihood of confusion of source, affiliation, sponsorship or connection in the minds of potential buyers.”

According to the Plaintiff, the title of its film, “Veere Di Wedding” has acquired considerable reputation and goodwill due to several newspaper articles and publications. This title, as Plaintiff claimed, is now firmly ensconced in the public imagination with the Plaintiff’s forthcoming cinematic work.

Justice Patel held that the Plaintiff’s film in this case had not evidenced reputation to satisfy a claim of passing off. He did not find any misuse or deceit as alleged, given that the story and cast were different. Not only was the title (“Veere Di Wedding” translating into “My best friend’s wedding”) particularly common, it needed to establish reputation through consumer identification – i.e. the title should be associated with the public mind as referring only to the Plaintiff’s work. According to Justice Patel, this was next to impossible in this case because the movie was not even in existence.

Noticeably, from this order it would be difficult for passing off claims to succeed for common place titles, especially those of singular works. The classical trinity would have to be proved – with the bar of reputation being higher for singular works. Alternatively, such titles may either be registered as trademarks under class 41, or may be registered with producers’ associations – although the latter only provides priority of registration. As for the former, trademark registration prescribes a standard of uniqueness that could be fatal for titles that are commonplace.