Intellectual property in literary, dramatic or musical works in India is protected under the Copyright Act, 1957. With the development of the entertainment industry and competition between entertainment channels for a larger share of the Indian market, copyright issues have assumed greater significance in the entertainment industry. Although, no copyright exists for ideas, concepts or themes that are sufficiently developed so they could be realized as a television programme, are capable of being the subject of confidential information. Protection available to such ideas or concepts under the Copyright Act may vary depending on whether or not the concept as developed and evolved is the result of the work done by the person who conceived the original idea by applying some novel thoughts which distinguishes it from simple ideas.
In a recent decision, the Delhi High Court adjudicated on the extent of protection available to ideas, concepts or themes communicated as confidential information and whether such information is protectable under the Act. The case involved a party that alleged they proposed to the other party a television show based on the idea of matchmaking for marriages entitled Swayamvar, (meaning a form of an Indian marriage where it would be the prerogative of a woman to select a groom from a variety of suitors). It was further alleged that the other party used the information to produce its own show entitled Shubh Vivah based on the concept of spouse selection with matchmaking for marriages as its central theme. Though the idea of marriages is common to both the programmes, the main features and the concept involved in both the television shows differ to a large extent.
The court held that the concept of matchmaking for marriages as the central theme of a family show developed and evolved by a party on material that may be available for the general public was confidential in nature and other parties to whom the idea was communicated must be placed under a special disability in the field of competition to ensure that they do not misappropriate the confidential information communicated by the first party. On this basis, the defendants and their agents were restrained from transmitting or enabling transmission of their proposed programme Shubh Vivah or any other programme that has matchmaking as its main subject or theme. It seems that the basis of the restraint imposed on the defendant was the springboard doctrine according to which a person who has obtained some information in confidence is not allowed to use it as a springboard for activities detrimental to the person who made the confidential communication, even though the information has been disclosed to the general public already.
Though, the extent of protection made available under the Act to information communicated in confidence (though in the public domain) is a progressive step, this decision will have far-reaching implications on the general trade practice adopted in the entertainment industry. It is usual for broadcasters to receive a large number of proposals on new concepts or ideas that may be developed by the broadcaster. It is often the case that an idea or a concept may be developed in such a manner that the final programme becomes substantially different from the original idea. If that is the case, making an idea or a concept the subject of confidential information, which should not be further acted on or developed, may be a deterrent for broadcasters to produce new shows with new ideas and may hamper the growth of the entertainment industry in India and legitimate competition in the industry.