Within the realm of entertainment, the nomenclature of a motion picture carries substantial value on par with its actual content. Movie title rights pertain to the lawful ownership and safeguarding of a film’s appellation or denomination.
These entitlements hold profound significance for filmmakers, production houses, and distributors, as they serve to establish brand recognition, facilitate effective marketing, and preclude any confusion or unauthorized utilization. Inadequate protection may render movie titles susceptible to infringements, dilution, or misappropriation, ultimately imperilling the movie’s identity and triumph.
Shielding movie title rights necessitates the employment of a composite strategy that intertwines legal and creative mechanisms. Registration of trademarks is an effective strategy to protect the title, while copyright laws are instrumental in safeguarding promotional materials related to the film. Thorough due diligence in researching the uniqueness of the title, ensuring it does not infringe upon existing trademarks, is paramount. By proactively embracing these measures, creators can uphold the integrity and marketability of their movie titles in an industry where branding and recognition hold paramount significance.
Movie rights encompass the exclusive prerogative to utilize the movie’s appellation, certain dialogues, characters, and scenes, which can also be licensed to third parties through contractual agreements and are subject to royalties. These rights function as protective measure for the original works authored by scriptwriters, lyricists, and other contributors to the cinematic creation. In this context, literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works fall under the ambit of copyright protection, while the title of the movie is shielded through the framework of trademark legislation. Exemplary instances of movie rights include character rights, such as “Venom” and “Kraven the Hunter” from Marvel, which were transferred to Sony Productions, thereby preventing Marvel from producing movies featuring these characters. Similarly, the title rights of movies like “Sholay” and “Avatar” serve as pertinent illustrations, as they have been trademarked due to their widespread recognition despite containing common words.
Obtaining Trademark Protection for a Movie Title
Securing trademark status for a movie title represents an effective strategy for shielding it against duplication and acquiring exclusive ownership rights. To establish trademark protection for a movie title, it is imperative to complete the registration process by submitting the requisite TM-A form and adhering to the procedural directives outlined in sections 18 to 23 of the Trademarks Act. Additionally, meticulous attention must be paid to ensure that the movie title in question does not contravene the criteria delineated in sections 9 and 11, governing the “absolute and relative grounds of refusal” for trademark registration.
Legal Recourse Against Unauthorized Movie Title Replication
The ability to institute legal action against a party for replicating a movie title hinges on the registration status of the title and the intention to secure protection under the Trademark Act. The course of action varies in three scenarios:
- Registered Title: When a movie title is registered as a trademark, legal action may be pursued against any attempt to replicate or imitate it. In such cases, a straightforward lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against infringement under section 29 of the Trademarks Act can be filed. Additionally, criminal liability can be invoked against the infringing party, utilizing the provisions of section 102 of the Trademarks Act. Notable instances include the registration and subsequent protection of the movie title “Sholay” where a legal dispute arose when Director Ram Gopal Verma attempted to remake the film, and the court ruled in favor of the title’s registered owners i.e Sholay Media and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. and the remake was precluded from utilizing the movie title “Sholay.” Instead, it was mandated to release under the appellation “Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag” beacause court held that even though “Sholay” being a common use word, still can be protected under IP laws as this movie has made its way beyond any ordinary motion picture and, has proved to be an epic film which has moved beyond than being just a usual word. Similarly, the movie “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” was registered as a word mark, granting exclusive rights to the registrants, as affirmed by the Delhi High Court in the case of Biswaroop Roy Choudhary v. Karan Johar.
- Unregistered Title: In cases where a movie title has not been registered as a trademark, the recourse becomes more intricate. Protection against unauthorized replication relies on the legal principle of passing off, a common law doctrine rather than a statutory right. In such instances, the burden of establishing a superior claim to the movie title falls upon the plaintiff. Successful assertion of this claim necessitates that the title possesses a high degree of recognition and distinctiveness, such that it immediately evokes the associated film in the minds of the public. Nonetheless, passing off offers relatively weaker protection compared to a registered trademark.
- Protection Under Copyright Act: The question of whether a movie title is applicable of being protected under Section 13 as this section mentions words like “cinematograph films” and “artistic work”. The unequivocal response is that a movie title cannot be encompassed within the ambit of protection under the Copyright Act. Section 13, read in conjunction with the explanation in Section 51, underscores that movie titles do not fall under the purview of copyright protection. Copyright safeguards the expression of an idea, while a mere idea, such as a movie title, remains beyond the purview of the Copyright Act.
The appellations of literary and artistic works, encompassing books, musical compositions, cinematographic productions, and similar subjects eligible for copyright protection, seemingly satisfy the criteria for copyright safeguarding. However, titles and designations, due to their inherent lack of requisite originality and creativity, are confined to protection as “Word Marks” under the purview of trademark jurisprudence. A significant legal precedent, Krishika Lulla and Ors. vs. Shyam Vithalrao Devkutta and Ors., established that copyright protection does not extend to movie titles, emphasizing that trademark registration is the preferred avenue for preserving these invaluable assets.
The factual matrix of the aforementioned case revolves around the contentions put forth by the complainants who asserted authorship of a narrative summary bearing the title “Desi Boys” and subsequently transmitted this narrative summary electronically to two other individuals. Subsequent to the release of a cinematic production titled “Desi Boyz” by the defendants, the complainants instituted legal proceedings against the defendants alleging infringement of copyright in the title of the cinematic production. The central legal issue presented before the Hon’ble Court was whether the complainants could assert a copyright claim over the title of the said cinematic production. The Court, guided by the statutory provisions under Section 13 of the Copyright Act, 1957, categorically opined that titles and appellation, by their intrinsic nature, do not meet the threshold of being regarded as “works” eligible for copyright protection.
In the field of entertainment, safeguarding movie rights, particularly the title, stands as an indispensable measure for filmmakers, production houses, and distributors. A movie’s title is not merely a nominal tag; it serves as a brand and a pivotal element in establishing recognition and facilitating marketing efforts. In the absence of adequate protection, movie titles are vulnerable to infringements, dilution, and misappropriation, placing the film’s identity and prosperity in jeopardy.
The preservation of movie title rights necessitates a multifaceted approach, harmonizing legal and creative strategies. Trademarks are registered to confer exclusive ownership of the title and protect against replication. Addressing the query of copyright protection for movie titles, the Copyright Act predominantly safeguards expressions of ideas within a film, excluding titles from its ambit. Movie titles, viewed as lacking the requisite creativity, can find the shelter under the canopy of trademark laws.
 Sholay Media and Entertainment Pvt Ltd. v. Parag M. Sanghavi, 223 (2015) DLT 152
  Krishika Lulla and Ors. vs. Shyam Vithalrao Devkutta and Ors ILC-2015-SC-CRL-Oct-9