The law relating to the issue of injunction in civil suits is laid down in the Specific Relief Act, 1963 and the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The grant of perpetual injunctions is regulated by the Specific Relief Act while grant of temporary or interlocutory injunctions, which are simply intended to preserve the status quo pending the decision, are regulated by the Code of Civil Procedure1. The object of an interlocutory injunction is to protect the plaintiff against injury by violation of his right for which he could not be adequately compensated in damages recoverable in the action if the uncertainty were resolved in his favour at the trial2.
The grant of an interlocutory or temporary injunction during the pendency of legal proceedings is a matter requiring the exercise of discretion of the court. While exercising the discretion, the court applies the following tests – (i) whether the plaintiff has a prima facie case; (ii) whether the balance of convenience is in favour of the plaintiff; and (iii) whether the plaintiff would suffer an irreparable injury if his prayer for interlocutory injunction is disallowed3.
Last Minute Injunctions
Of late, Indian courts have witnessed a trend of ‘last minute injunctions’, a practice that involves filing a case before the courts to seek an injunction at the eleventh hour. The courts in India discourage the practice of parties claiming injunction at the eleventh hour and expecting courts to drop all other work to listen to and decide their applications on a priority basis. Last minute injunctions are seen by courts as an attempt to pressurize the defendants into making a statement of some kind or, worse yet, to pressurize the Court into passing some hurried pro tem order for want of time with little or no assessment on merits, a wholly unfair advantage4.
The courts do consider certain cases of last minute injunctions, particularly where it is proved by the plaintiff, that the plaintiff had no prior knowledge of the act in question. However, if it is shown and especially where it is admitted, that the plaintiff knew several weeks in advance of the act in question, the courts consider such an act as an unconscionable indulgence. The plaintiff in such a scenario who waits till the last minute must then face the consequences of such a failed gambit.
On January 21, 2021, the Delhi High Court, the suit filed by Mr. John Hart Jr, a Hollywood producer and Ms. Sonia Mudbhatkal, who runs a production house based in the United States of America (“Plaintiffs”) to seek an injunction against the movie ‘White Tiger’, on the grounds of copyright violations, was another such instance of a last minute injunction.
The Plaintiffs, had sought an injunction against the release of the movie ‘White Tiger’ less than 24 hours before release of the film. The movie ‘White Tiger’ is based on a book by the same name, authored by Mr. Aravind Adiga. The Plaintiffs’ case before the Delhi High Court was that a literary auction agreement was executed between Mr. Hart Jr and Mr. Adiga in March 2009, whereby Mr. Hart Jr. had secured the rights to make a movie based on the book. It was the Plaintiffs’ contention that upon receiving knowledge in October 2019 that Netflix was in the process of making and releasing the film, they took necessary steps to protect their copyright. To protect their copyright, the Plaintiffs sent a cease and desist notice to the defendants. The Plaintiffs further stated that they were never given an impression that shooting of a film was ongoing in 2020 as similar activities were put on hold abroad due to the recent pandemic.
Asserting that his right in the adaptation of the book was absolute, the counsel for Mr. Hart Jr. submitted that the act of Netflix adapting the book was an act of copyright violation. It was further submitted that the damage caused to Netflix if a temporary injunction was granted in the Plaintiffs’ favour would be far lesser than the damage caused to the Plaintiffs as it was their dream to adapt the book as a movie.
The defendants opposed this plea, by bringing to the court’s attention that the cause of action in this case arose in October 2019, but the Plaintiffs had approached the courts at the very last minute, a day before the release of the movie to be precise. It was further submitted that the Plaintiffs had concealed various documents from the court, including without limited to agreements executed between the parties and replies to the cease and desist notice. The defendants submitted that the Plaintiffs had ample time to approach the courts or take any necessary action after receiving the defendants reply to the cease and desist notice, wherein the assertions made by the Plaintiffs were denied. It was further submitted that releasing a movie on an over-the-top platform also involved considerable finances and goodwill, which would be affected if a temporary injunction was passed in favour of the Plaintiffs.
Upon considering the submissions made by the parties, the Delhi High Court declined to grant any protection to the Plaintiffs on the ground that by approaching the court at the last hour would cause serious and irreparable consequences to the defendants if the release of the film was stalled. The court further observed that it could not arrive at a prima facie view that the Plaintiff’s copyright was infringed as relevant documents had been concealed from it. The Delhi High Court while allowing the movie to release, asked the producers of the films to maintain detailed accounts in the event copyright violation was proved at a later stage, to enable the court could determine monetary compensation.
2 (1995) 5 SCC 545
4 Dashrath B. Rathod v. Fox Star Studios India Pvt. Ltd, Notice Of Motion (L) No. 693 Of 2017 In Suit (L) No. 196 Of 2017.