New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Thursday refused to stay release of the film The White Tiger on the over the top (OTT) streaming platform Netflix on a plea by Hollywood producer John Hart Jr, alleging copyright violation.
In an urgent hearing conducted late evening, Justice C. Hari Shankar dismissed the stay application by the producer, saying not a single reason was shown to approach the court less than 24 hours before the film’s release.
The court, which heard the matter for over two hours, issued summons to the producer of the film Mukul Deora and Netflix. It listed the matter for completion of pleadings before the joint registrar on March 22.
The White Tiger is based on the book of the same name by Arvind Adiga, which was released in March 2008.
The film features Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao and Adarsh Gourav in the lead roles.
The court said, “It is not possible for this court to come to the finding, based on the material on record, that by making and releasing the film, the defendants have indulged in copyright infringement.”
The court said Deora and Netflix are allowed to release the film and are directed to keep detailed accounts of the film so that if at a later stage, Hart Jr succeeds, the court can determine the monetary compensation.
It also said that on a holistic consideration of facts, especially as the plaintiffs have chosen to approach the court less than 24 hours before the release of the film, they have not been able to make out a case for an ad-interim injunction on the release of the movie.
Advocate Kapil Sankhla, representing Hart Jr, said that a literary auction agreement was executed between him and Adiga in March 2009 and he had to make it an “Oscar worthy film”.
He said it was only in October 2019 that he came to know that Netflix was in the process of making and releasing the film, which resulted in sending a legal notice to Deora and Netflix to seize and desist from any such act.
Sankhla, also representing Sonia Mudbhatkal who runs a US production company, said his clients were never given an impression that shooting of a film was going on in 2020 as all such works were put on hold abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this resulted in copyright infringement.
He sought to stay the release of the film, saying it will not cause any serious financial ramifications to the defendants as the movie is to be released on an OTT platform and not in theatres.
He added that his clients right to the movie adaptation is absolute. “For them it’s merely a commercial venture, but for me it’s a grand dream. I will never be able to make the movie the way I envisaged it. When I purchased the rights this was the second highest selling Man Booker prize winner,” he said, according to LiveLaw.
However, Justice Shankar responded, “Merely saying that if this film is released, your dreams will be shattered is no ground for grant of an injunction on the release of the film.”
Senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing Deora, opposed the suit saying the cause of action arose in October 2019 itself and the plaintiffs have approached the court at the 11th hour, which is not permissible.
He added that Hart Jr has concealed various relevant documents from the court and placed a one-sided story and that no cause of granting the ad-interim injunction was made out.
Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal, representing Netflix, adopted the arguments advanced by Sethi and added that the OTT film release involves huge finances and goodwill and no stay should be granted.
After hearing all the parties, the court said it cannot arrive at a view that the defendants have prima facie infringed the copyrights of plaintiffs by making and releasing the film.
The judge said he was prima facie inclined to agree with Sethi, that if the release of the movie is stalled at this stage, it will cause serious and irreparable consequences to the defendants.