Artistic Expression, Defamation / Reputation, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
The Case of Mephisto
Closed Mixed Outcome
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The Supreme Court of India partly allowed the appeal in a case where the appellant was seeking an interim injunction to prohibit the exhibition globally of a mini T.V. serial titled “The Mysteries of Dark Jungle,” produced in India by the Milan-based International Media Publishing Group. The defendants, after contracting the appellant as a coproducer in order to procure necessary permissions for shooting from the Indian government, which they found otherwise difficult to obtain, cut him out of the film production after the approval process and failed to give him any credit for his services. The Court sought to limit the scope of the interim relief and direct its application to restrict all exhibitions of the film made, either on T.V. or any other medium, within the territory of India unless the applicant’s role was publicly recognized in the credits. Being conscious of its restraints in ordering global injunctions, the Court refrained from issuing orders it did not have the capacity to issue or giving directions over the compliance of which it had no control.
One of the defendants, Rizsoli Corriers Della Sera Prodzioni T.V. S.P.S, a Milan-based International Media Publishing Group, proposed to make in India a mini T.V. Serial titled “The Mysteries of Dark Jungle”. Based on an Italian novel, the project was, however, unable to take off as they were unable to obtain permission from the Government of India – a prerequisite before the start of the project. The appellant was a renowned film personality in India having several films to his credit.
On April 30, 1989, the appellant was approached by the defendants, three Italian companies and a foreign producer acting on behalf of these companies, in connection with the making of the T.V. serial. Apart from engaging with the appellant on arranging permissions for making a T.V. serial in India, the defendant consulted with the appellant on various other facilities, conditions and constraints in India for the production of the said T.V. channel. On May 2, 1989, an oral offer was made to the appellant to act as a co-producer, discharge all functions of the co-producer and procure approvals for the project from the government. A written copy of the offer was sent to the appellant on May 11, 1989. Notably, it was agreed between the appellant and the defendants that the title list of the film will feature the appellant as a co-producer.
The appellant thereby made certain modifications to the script as necessitated by the policies and procedures of the Indian government and was able to obtain, on August 1, 1989, permission from the Government of India for the shooting of the series. However, the defendants began cold-shouldering the appellant post the approval process, disassociated themselves and proceeded ahead with the production of the film without the participation of the appellant (p. 2).
As a result, the appellant filed a suit for specific performance of the agreement dated May 2, 1989 by filing two applications of interim relief. He claimed:
During the pendency of the application, the appellant also sought to restrain the defendants from carrying on the production or exhibition of the said film, without his participation as a co-producer. Before the reliefs could be obtained, however, the production of the film was completed. Consequently, the appellant confined the claim to require a three-second display in the credit-titles of the film of his name as a ‘co-producer’.
By an order dated August 24, 1990 and a subsequent High Court Division Bench order dated December 14, 1990, his application was dismissed. Aggrieved, he appealed before the Supreme Court.
Justice S. Ranganathan delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court of India. The main concern before the Court was if and whether the grant of interim relief to the appellant within the powers of the Supreme Court.
The Court initially began by analysing the nature of the contract concluded between the parties. Before the Supreme Court, the defendants had contested that there was no contract with respect to the part to be played by the appellant in the actual production of the film. The Court concluded that the question of specific performance of the contract did not arise in the case on account of the completion of the production process. Without delving into the existence of a formal agreement between them, therefore, the Court sought to confine the scope of analysis to the damages the appellant was entitled to for having been excluded from being allowed to participate in the production of the film (p. 3).
The Supreme Court noted that irrespective of the conclusion of a valid contract between the parties, the appellant was deserving of some mention by the defendants in the film, earned by rendering the services to help the defendants obtain requisite permissions from the Government of India for shooting the film in India. As the defendants were unable to make any acknowledgment on account of the completion of the production process and finalization of exhibition and planning, the High Court sought to award monetary compensation as damages. The Supreme Court, however, held that the award of damages was an inadequate relief, given the appellant’s interest in securing the goodwill and reputation by way of release.
Recognising that necessary modifications were still possible to credit the appellant in the credit titles given the early stages of the exhibition of the film, the Court preferred to then consider the scope and extent of interim relief granted to the appellant, by injuncting defendants from exhibiting the film. Since the exhibition of the film was intended for foreign audience, the court had to make a crucial decision of the extent of enforcement of the injunction, nationally or globally.
Even though the Court considered a possibility to restrict exhibition and distribution of the film unless the defendants were able to make the necessary changes in the title shots and introduce an acknowledgment of the appellant’s services, it refrained from doing so. This was because the film was to be exhibited only in foreign countries and it would have been difficult for the Court to hold the defendants liable for their actions. The Supreme Court noted that it ‘did not have the capacity to issue directions over the compliance of which it had no control’ (p. 4). This was an important consideration for the Supreme Court to restrict the scope of the interim relief and direct its application to all exhibitions made, either on T.V. or any other medium, within the territory of India.
While issuing a nationwide injunction against the exhibition of the film, the Supreme Court noted three clarifications. First, it acknowledged the limited relief it granted to the appellant, in light of the fact that it was his desire to be recognized internationally to foreign producers so that they may consider his services. However, the Court was able to draw a line of distinction between the scope of authority it exercised and the adequate relief it desired to offer, and therefore, sought not to broaden the scope of the interim injunction. Second, the Court offered the defendants the freedom to decide the phraseology of the recognition granted to the appellant in the credit titles, in a scenario where they wished to release the film in India. Finally, the Court also kept open the possibility of the appellants to prosecute the defendants further, without considering the order as prejudicing or abridging appellant’s claim to damages in case of the exhibition of the film in India without due acknowledgments.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The judgment of the Supreme Court in Suresh Jindal v. Rizosli Corriere Della Sera Prodzioni T.V. S.p.a. and Ors was one of the earliest instances where the Indian Supreme Court considered the grant of global injunctions. The Court issued an injunction against dissemination only in India, in view of the fact that the global standard to protect free speech could be very low in various jurisdictions. With this, the Court was quite mindful of its extraterritorial reach and, hence, refrained from blocking the content on a global basis. Though the Court noted that Indian Courts have a higher standard for free speech, it also held that the Courts should not impose the said standards internationally. However, the principles laid down in the case have gone largely unnoticed in subsequent recent decisions of the High Courts in Ramdev v. Facebook (2019) and YouTube v Geeta Shroff (2018), where the grant of global injunctions beyond the Court’s territoriality have been instrumental in affording relief to the plaintiffs.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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