News Letter
August 2019

Does copyright exist in a ‘title’ of a literary work in isolation?

A movie titled ‘Kolaiyuthir Kalam’ which roughly translates to ‘Season of Death/Murders’ starring Nayanthara was in dispute not because of its storyline but because of its title. The defendants were set to release their movie titled ‘Kolaiyuthir Kalam’, which was the tile of a novel authored by a famous Tamil writer, Mr. S. Rangarajan, who had coined this term specifically for the novel. The plaintiff alleged that since the title of the novel was not an ordinary word or not used in common parlance, thus bore a distinctive character and is therefore a ‘literary work’ under Copyright Act, 1957. The plaintiff had copyright over the title by virtue of an agreement with the author, where the author had assigned copyright in the novel to the plaintiff. Thus, by using this term for their movie, the defendants had infringed the copyright of the plaintiff. The defendants argued that definition of ‘literary works’ under the said Act does not include ‘titles’ and also there are no rights that exist in the title, which is just used to identify the literary work. The Madras High Court relied on the Supreme Court case of Krishika Lulla and others v. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta and another and held that copyright does not exist in the title of a literary work and that title of a common name cannot be protected under the Copyright Act, 1957.

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The contents of this newsletter should not be construed as legal opinion.