New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Thursday refused to stay release of film ‘The White Tiger’ tonight on OTT platform Netflix on a plea by Hollywood producer John Hart Jr alleging copyright violation. In an urgent hearing conducted late evening, Justice C Hari Shankar dismissed the stay application by the producer saying not a single reason was shown to approach the court less than 24 hours before release of the film.
The court, which heard the matter for over two hours, issued summons to the producer of the film Mukul Deora and Netflix where it will be released tonight. it listed the matter for completion of pleadings before the joint registrar on March 22. The film The White Tiger’ is based on the book The White Tiger’ which was released in March 2008.
The film features Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao and Adarsh Gourav in the lead role. The court said, It is not possible for this court to come to the finding, based on the material on record, that by making and releasing the film, the defendants have indulged in copyright infringement.
The court said Deora and Netflix are allowed to release the film and are directed to keep detailed accounts of the film so that if at a later stage, Hart Jr succeeds, the court can determine the monetary compensation. It also said that on a holistic consideration of facts, especially as the plaintiffs have chosen to approach the court less than 24 hours before the release of the film, they have not been able to make out a case for an ad-interim injunction on release of the movie.
Advocate Kapil Sankhla, representing Hart Jr, said that a literary auction agreement was executed between him and author of the book Aravinda Adiga in March 2009 and he had to make it an Oscar worthy film to be released in Hollywood. He said it was only in October 2019, that he came to know that Netflix was in the process of making and releasing the film on Over The Top (OTT) platform and this resulted in sending a legal notice to Deora and Netflix to seize and desist from any such act.
Sankhla, also representing Sonia Mudbhatkal who runs a US Production Company, said his clients were never given an impression that shooting of a film was going on in 2020 as all such works were put on hold abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this resulted in copyright infringement. He sought to stay the release of the film saying it will not cause any serious financial ramifications to the defendants as the movie is to be released on OTT and not on theatres.
Senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing Deora, opposed the suit saying the cause of action arose in October 2019 itself and the plaintiffs have approached the court at the 11th hour which is not permissible. He added that Hart Jr has concealed various relevant documents from the court and placed a one sided story and that no cause of granting ad-interim injunction was made out.
Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal, representing Netflix, adopted the arguments advanced by Sethi and added that the OTT film release involves huge finances and goodwill and no stay should be granted. After hearing all the parties, the court said it cannot arrive at a view that the defendants have prima facie infringed the copyrights of plaintiffs by making and releasing the film.
I am prima facie inclined to agree with Mr. Sethi that if release of the movie is stalled at this stage, it will cause serious and irreparable consequences to the defendants, the judge said.