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  • Writer's pictureRoyzz & Co

Scriptures cannot be copyrighted, however any adaptations of the said work can be protected

In the matter filed by The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, INDIA [hereinafter referred to as Plaintiff Trust] a Trust established by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ‘Srila Prabhupada’ (hereinafter, ‘Author’), who was a renowned scholar, philosopher, prolific author, a social critic and is revered as a Guru by his devotees, before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court, the Plaintiff Trust was granted ex-parte, ad-interim injunction against the Defendants.

Defendant Nos. 1 to 4 are websites which are reproducing many of the Plaintiff’s copyrighted works, on their online platforms. Defendant Nos. 5 to 9 are mobile applications which are making available the Plaintiff’s copyrighted works to the public without the consent and permission of the Plaintiff-Trust. The Defendant Nos. 10 to 14 are handles where the copyrighted works are being uploaded and communicated to the public through various links. Defendant No.15 is a search engine which is making available the infringing mobile applications. Defendant No.16 is a social media platform which runs the platforms where the infringing Instagram handles are making available the infringing copies of the copyrighted works. Defendant No.17 is the Domain Name Registrar (DNR), of Defendant No.1 domain name and the Defendant Nos.18 to 26 are Internet Service Providers. Defendant Nos. 27 and 28 are Department of Telecommunications and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

The Plaintiffs contend that the Author has simplified and published various religious books and scriptures which have made it easy for the common man to understand. The writings of the Author include various lectures and published books in many languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese and other regional languages, as also foreign languages such as French, German and Russian etc. The copyright in all the works which are based on the Authors teachings, writings, lectures and preaching etc. vests with the Plaintiff -Trust.

The Plaintiff-Trust makes the said works available to the public through its various religious establishments and through online platforms and earns royalty from the sale and commercial exploitation of the said works, for its charitable work.

The Hon’ble Court, after hearing arguments of both parties, held that while no copyright can be claimed in respect of the Scriptures, any adaptations, including providing explanation, summary, meaning, exegesis/interpretation or creating any audio-visual works for e.g., television series or any other dramatic works based on scriptures etc., being transformative works, would be entitled to copyright protection, as being original works of the Authors themselves. Thus, there can be no objection in the actual reproduction of the text of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita or similarly other spiritual books. However, the way the same is interpreted by different gurus and spiritual teachers being varied in nature, copyright would vest in respect of the original parts of the literary works which preach, teach or explain the scripture.

The Hon’ble Court perused the records and the extracts from the infringing websites, mobile applications, handles, etc. and observed that there is a large-scale infringement that has been carried out by way of reproduction of a substantial number of copyrighted works of the Plaintiff – Trust, in several of the languages in which the Authors’ works are published, causing immense loss of revenue to the Plaintiff Trust.

The Hon’ble Court granted an order of ex-parte injunction against the Defendants as it was of the opinion that the balance of convenience was in favour of the Plaintiff and irreparable injury would be caused to the Plaintiff if the injunction was not granted.

The matter is now to be listed before the Court on 12th March, 2024.

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