New Delhi: Bad Boy Billionaires, a forthcoming series on Netflix set for release on September 2, has run into a legal wall with a local court in Bihar ordering an interim stay on its broadcasting by using the name of well-known businessman Subrata Roy.
The court has given the stay order on August 28 till Netflix’s counsel appears before the court. Netflix is reportedly planning to approach the Supreme Court early next week to get the stay vacated.
Following the orders, Netflix withdrew the promo of the show from its platform though it continues to be available on YouTube – apparently posted by a fan. The series consists of individual stories of well known Indian businessmen who got into trouble after achieving phenomenal success. Some of them have left the country, others went to jail. The list includes Nirav Modi, Subrata Roy, Vijay Mallya, and Ramalinga Raju. There is no episode on Choksi and Netflix’s lawyer told the court that he appears for ‘two minutes’. This may involve re-editing the trailer, among other options, sources said “and, if the stay continues, drop the Roy episode”.
An official spokesperson of Netflix told The Wire, “We have no comment to share on this query.”
Informed sources said that the platform has a Plan B and plans to go ahead with the launch on September 2. This may involve re-editing the trailer, among other options, sources said. The official spokesperson did not confirm this
On Friday however, the Delhi high court rejected a writ petition with a similar plea by Gujarati diamond merchant Mehul Choksi, an accused in a USD two billion scam and who was once considered to be close to Narendra Modi, till he fled the country in June 2018 after facing charges of non-payment of huge bank debts.
The court held that Choksi was free to file a civil suit if he still wanted to pursue the matter. “In my opinion, a writ petition for enforcement of a private is not maintainable. The appropriate remedy would be civil suit as the alleged infringement is of a private right. The petition is dismissed. The petitioner is at liberty to raise the issue in a private civil suit,” Justice Chawla said.
Choksi is one of the billionaires featured in the series. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), however, opposed Choksi’s plea stating that “freedom of speech and expression is cardinal and should be given full play.” The Ministry reportedly also pointed out to the court that it doesn’t regulate content from over-the-top platforms unless it clashes with national security.
However, a local court in Bihar’s Araria stated that it was of “the considered view that the plaintiff (Roy) has qualified tripartite test of (a) prima facie case, balance of convenience and irreparable loss and grant of ad interim injunction in its favour as such the defendants including their employees, directors, officers, associates or any person or entity acting on their behalf or under their authority are restrained from releasing transmitting, distributing, exhibiting, performing or communicating to the public by any means or technology by audio or video performance of the impugned trailer and series of Bad Boy Billionaires using the name of Subrata Roy till the appearance of the defendant and filing show cause.”
The local court though added that it was an interim order and the issue “shall be decided on merits after hearing both the parties.”
Roy, chairman of the Sahara group, in his plea, alleged that the aim of the series was to malign his public image by featuring him alongside fugitive billionaires like Choksi, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Harshad Mehta. He claimed that, in 2019, a London-based director contacted him in Lucknow for a web series on his life to be titled ‘Billionaires’. If allowed to air the series with his name in it, Roy’s counsel Vivek Jha argued that it would have an adverse effect on the enterprise of the Sahara group.
The counsel for Netflix, Neeraj Kishan Kaul, had already agreed to Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal’s plea to the court that it must give a preview of the web series to the court if asked by it but categorically stated that it would not give a preview of it to Choksi. Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul argued against Aggarwal’s argument that “the hunger of Netflix to remain unregulated needs to be regulated.” Aggarwal reportedly stated, “Till the time the Union of India regulates OTT platforms, aggrieved individuals have to approach the court.”
While Choksi’s lawyer argued that “excessive publicity prejudices with legal proceedings and will adversely impact Choksi’s trial”, Netflix’s counsel said that he would appear in the series for two minutes and it would not affect his trial. Calling the petition a “gross abuse”, senior advocate Kaul asked, “Should an absconder be allowed to invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of the court?” He also said that pre-censorship has the effect of killing free speech.