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RG Anand v. M/S Deluxe Films AIR 1978 SC 1613


Supreme Court of India




Intellectual property (Copyright infringement)

Samriddhi Aggarwal,



The following case commentary deals with the landmark case on R.G. Anand v. M/S. Deluxe  Films under copyright law. This article aims to understand the facts, issues and arguments of the  matter, along with analyzing the judgment and the ratio decidendi given by the Hon’ble  Supreme Court in India. It further studies and compares the copyright laws in India as against  the ones in U.S.A. This case also developed a test to see when something is being copied and  thus, which cases would fall under the category of “copyright infringement”.


This case centers around copyright law[1], an integral facet of intellectual property rights  designed to safeguard the original works of authors. Copyright infringement occurs when  individuals utilize someone else's work without permission, profiting from it unlawfully. 

The groundbreaking ruling clarified the criteria for identifying copyright infringement.  Moreover, it facilitated a comparative analysis of copyright laws between India and the USA.  This case analysis underscores the significance of legal precedents in shaping copyright  jurisprudence and highlights the evolving nature of intellectual property rights protection.


• The Appellant, R. G. Anand, an architect and a noted playwright, wrote and staged the  successful play 'Hum Hindustani' in 1953. Its popularity led Mohan Sehgal, the second  Respondent, to approach Anand. 

• Anand then narrated the entire play and discussed it extensively with the second and  third respondent in January 1955, exploring the possibility of adapting it into a film.  However, there was no follow-up communication from Sehgal thereafter.

• In May 1955, the Respondents began production on a film titled 'New Delhi', which  Anand suspected was based on his play. Despite assurances from the Respondents that  the film bore no resemblance to his work, Anand concluded otherwise upon viewing it  in September 1956. 

• He subsequently filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement, seeking damages, profits,  and a permanent injunction against the exhibition of the film.

• Both the Trial Court and the High Court ruled in favor of the Respondents, stating that  producing and exhibiting 'New Delhi' did not constitute copyright infringement. Anand  appealed this decision to the Supreme Court under Article 136[2] of the Constitution.


1. Whether the plaintiff is the owner of the copyright in the play 'Hum Hindustani'? 2. Whether the film 'New Delhi' is an infringement of the plaintiff's copyright in the play 'Hum Hindustani'?

3. Whether the defendants infringed the plaintiff's copyright by producing, or distributing or exhibiting the film 'New Delhi'?

4. Whether the suit is bad for the misjoinder of defendants and cause of action?

5. To what relief is the plaintiff entitled and against whom?

 Plaintiff's Arguments:

• The appellant's legal representative contended that the Trial Court's application of relevant  laws was flawed. 

• They argued that the court neglected to consider legal precedents established by courts in  India, England, and the USA concerning copyright infringement. 

• Furthermore, they asserted that the film bore unmistakable similarities to the appellant's  play. The storyline mirrored that of the play, set in the same location, with characters from  Punjabi and Madrasi backgrounds, including a leading lady who shared traits with the play's  character, particularly in her affinity for singing and dancing. 

• Lastly, it was argued that the respondents unlawfully replicated the stage production,  violating the appellant's copyright, and proceeded with the film without obtaining  permission. 

Defendant’s Arguments: 

• The counsel representing the respondent firmly refuted the appellant's allegations.  • They asserted that the film and the play were distinctly separate entities. The events  depicted in each work were different, and their fundamental themes diverged significantly.  • The counsel further argued that the Trial Court's assessment was accurate, indicating that  there was no basis for claiming a breach of the appellant's copyright. 


Justice Pathak stated that if someone attempts to replicate an existing idea, they are likely to  introduce modifications that do not constitute copyright infringement. Additionally, he noted that if  the case facts were presented differently, his opinion might have varied. However, given that both the  lower court and the high court did not find evidence of infringement, he aligned with their  conclusions.


The Supreme Court established the following principles to ascertain copyright infringement:

1. Ideas or plots themselves are not copyrightable; rather, it is their manner of presentation  that warrants protection. If the presentation implies imitation, it constitutes a breach of  copyright.

2. While the theme may be the same, originality lies in distinct execution

3. When the idea or plot remains unchanged, similarities are inevitable. Courts must  scrutinize whether these similarities could potentially breach someone's copyright. 

4. A predominance of dissimilarities over similarities indicates an absence of intent to copy.

5. If an ordinary person can discern replication of another's work, it signifies copyright  infringement.

6. Clear evidence suggesting piracy constitutes a breach of copyright.


The Supreme Court emphasized that while both the film and the play revolved around the theme  of provincialism, the similarities between them were minimal. They differed significantly in  context, with the film containing numerous plot elements absent in the play. The apex court  further noted that an average person would not discern any significant resemblance between the  two works. Consequently, the court concluded that there was no infringement of the appellant's  copyright. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appellant's appeal, affirming the  decisions of both the Trial Court and the Delhi High Court.

The Supreme Court of India outlined two key principles in its judgment to determine copyright  infringement:

1. It emphasized that copyright protection extends to the expression of an idea, not the idea  itself. Mere abstraction of an idea would not warrant copyright protection. For instance,  claiming infringement solely based on the use of an idea without substantial expression

would not be valid.

2. The court introduced the concept of analyzing points of similarities and points of  dissimilarities in copyright cases. If the points of similarities between two works outweigh the  points of dissimilarities, copyright may be granted. Conversely, if the points of dissimilarities  prevail, copyright may not be granted.

In this case, the court found limited similarity between the works, leading to the denial of  copyright protection. Additionally, the court clarified that copyright does not extend to ideas,  subject matter, themes, plots, or historical and legendary facts. These elements are not subject  to copyright protection. The court also stated that the burden of proof regarding copyright  infringement rests with the appellant.


Anand contended that Deluxe Films and the other defendants were well acquainted with the  theme and intricacies of his play, 'Hum Hindustani'. Detailed discussions had taken place  between them regarding this matter. Anand asserted his ownership of the copyright in the  play and claimed infringement. The Delhi High Court acknowledged the plaintiff's  copyright under the Copyright Act of 1911.[3] 

However, Deluxe Films and others argued that their movie diverged significantly from the  play in terms of themes, characterization, and treatment.

The court determined that the defendants' film was not a substantial copy of the play.  Differences in story, theme, characterization, and climaxes precluded a finding of piracy.  Copyright protection does not extend to ideas; rather, it covers the expression of ideas.  Anand's claim of idea infringement was dismissed.

The plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the defendants engaged in colorable imitation of his 

play. For infringement to be established, similarities between the copyrighted work and the  copy must be substantial and not coincidental. The court found no evidence of infringement  recognizable by a reasonable person. The Supreme Court concluded that the film did not  appear to be a copy of the play and dismissed the appeal.

This landmark judgment clarified that copyright protection does not encompass mere ideas.  It has since been referenced in numerous subsequent judgments across Indian courts,  contributing significantly to Indian copyright law.


Copyright Act of 1976 (USA): “The Copyright Act prevents the unauthorized copying of a  work of authorship. However, only the copying of the work is prohibited--anyone may copy  the ideas contained within a work."[4]

INDIA: "Subject to the provisions of this section and the other provisions of this Act,  copyright shall subsist throughout India in the following classes of works, that is to say,:  original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; cinematograph films; and sound  recording.[5]

The primary distinctions in legislation between India and the USA lie in copyright  registration requirements. While India does not mandate copyright registration, the USA  has made it compulsory via the US Constitution's Article 1, § 8, Clause 8 (known as the  'Copyright' clause) compares copyright with patents, a unique provision not found in other  countries. Patents protect new inventions, unlike copyrights.

Although both countries' laws acknowledge that copyright cannot be absolute, a notable  difference is evident. Copyright law places restrictions on its exercise, with exceptions  allowing limited use without the owner's consent. The USA employs the 'Fair Use' doctrine, 

while India uses 'Fair Dealing'. Indian law[6]  specifies acts that constitute fair dealing,  including research, private study, criticism, or review, and use in newspapers, magazines,  broadcasts, and photographs.


The case of R. G. Anand vs. M/S Deluxe Films[7]  involved a dispute over copyright  infringement between playwright R. G. Anand and the producers of the film 'New Delhi'.  Anand claimed that the film was a replica of his play 'Hum Hindustani'. The Supreme Court  addressed crucial issues surrounding copyright ownership, infringement, and the burden of  proof. Anand argued for substantial similarities between the play and the film, while the  defendants’ emphasized differences in themes and execution. The court emphasized the  distinction between ideas and expressions in copyright law and highlighted the need for  substantial evidence to establish infringement.

Justice Pathak's remarks underscored the  complexities of idea replication, while the court's decision ultimately found no significant  copying of the play in the film. This landmark ruling clarified key principles of Indian  copyright law, particularly concerning the protection of ideas, and set important precedents  for future cases.


 [1] The Copyright Act, 1957, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1957 (India).

[2] INDIA CONST. art. 136 

[3] The Copyright Act 1911, 1 & 2 Geo. 5. c. 46 (England).

[4] Bitlaw (no date) Copyright Law in the United States. Available at: (Accessed: 17 March 2024).

[5] Id.

[6]  Indian Copyright Act, 1957, Section 52.

[7] RG Anand v. Deluxe Films, AIR 1978 SC 1613.

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