Delhi HC Holds that Adaptations of Scriptures are Eligible for Copyright Protection

Parag Singhal

October 19, 2023

Delhi HC Holds that Adaptations of Scriptures are Eligible for Copyright Protection

The Delhi High Court recently issued an ex-parte ad interim injunction against multiple Defendants restraining them from printing, reproducing, communicating, and disseminating content belonging to Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (Plaintiff) to the public in print, audio-visual or electronic form including through websites, mobile applications, and social media posts as the same would result in the infringement of Plaintiff’s copyright.

The Plaintiff, a renowned scholar and the founder of ISKCON has simplified and published numerous religious books and scriptures. The copyright in all such works derived from the author’s teachings, writings, lectures and preaching, etc. vests with the Plaintiff. The said works are made available to the public through religious institutions and online platforms, and the Plaintiff earns royalty from the sale and commercial exploitation of the said works, for its charitable purposes. Plaintiff contended that in order to protect its revenue and rights, the reproduction of works by Defendants ought to be injuncted as they did not have any consent or license or right to reproduce, communicate, and disseminate the copyrighted works of Plaintiff. The Plaintiff further contended that the deception was not limited to just making the books accessible, but also involved using the Plaintiff's name as the author of the book. Additionally, it was observed that the piracy occurred in multiple languages in which the Plaintiff's works are published.

The Court observed that while no copyright can be claimed in scriptures, however, any adaptations, including but not limited to providing an explanation, summary, meaning, exegesis/interpretation, or creating any audio-visual works like television series or any other dramatic works based on scriptures, etc., being transformative works, would be considered as original works of the Author and are entitled to copyright protection. Further, the Hon’ble Court opined that there can be no objection to the actual reproduction of the text of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita or other spiritual books as the same are already in the public domain. However, the manner in which the same is interpreted by different gurus and spiritual teachers is varied in nature and copyright would vest in the original parts of the literary works which preach, teach, or explain the scripture.

Upon reviewing the extracts from infringing websites, mobile applications, and social media handles of the Defendants, the Court determined that the books offered by the multiple Defendants are entire verbatim reproductions of Plaintiff’s works as they have reproduced shlokas, summary, introduction, preface, and the cover in their entirety. In light of the same, the Court granted an ex-parte ad interim injunction stating that the balance of convenience lies in favor of the Plaintiff and irreparable injury would be caused to the Plaintiff if the interim injunction is not granted. The Court further directed Google LLC and Meta Platforms Inc. (which owns Instagram) to take down the infringing content from their platforms and instructed the suspension and blocking of the corresponding hyperlinks.

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