On May 4, a single-judge bench of Justice BP Collabawala through video conferencing gave an interim order against Eros International in a petition filed under the section 9 of arbitration and conciliation act, 1996 by Sanjay Leela Bhansali in a copyright dispute over the film Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela.
Facts of the case
Bhansali Productions and Eros International Media Limited had co-produced and released the movie in 2013 and there was an understanding between the two with regards to rights of the film.
The petition came in response to an intimation filed by Eros International with Bombay Stock Exchange of an all-share merger with its parent company, Eros International Plc, and Hollywood’s STX Filmworks. The proposed merger is expected to come into effect by 30th June.
However, after companies started using the poster of the movie to highlight the merger, Bhansali Productions invoked the arbitration and conciliation clauses which restrained Eros International from selling, exploiting, licensing, distributing and renewing rights over the film.
Arguments of the parties
Bhansali Productions were represented by the Senior Advocate Zal Adhyarujina instructed by DSK Legal. He contended that the merger was based on incorrect disclosure and sought relief from STX Filmworks or any other company selling, exploiting, licensing, distributing, and renewing rights related to the movie.
The film was jointly produced by Bhansali Productions and Eros International Media Limited. No other company can claim its rights on the film as Sanjay Leela Bhansali was also co-producer of the movie.
However, advocates Akshay Patil and Vikrant Zunjarrao instructed by Zunjarrao & Co. representing Eros International claimed that the film was specifically mentioned in annual returns for the fiscal ending of 31st March 2019, which meant that there was no urgency to grant interim reliefs to Bhansali Productions.
Observations of the Court
The court noted that the respondents rightly pointed out paragraph 3.36 of the petition where the petitioner came across Respondent no. 2’s annual returns where the present film has been specifically mentioned and regardless of that the urgent ad-interim reliefs have been sought at the end of April 2020. Justice BP Collabawala accepting this submission made by the respondents ruled that there is no case of ad-interim relief at this stage since the court is hearing only extremely urgent matters due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The court held that there are important questions of law that arise in this petition since the relief sought against the Respondent no. 2 and 3 who are certainly not parties to the arbitration agreement and that they do not fall in the jurisdiction of this court being based in the foreign countries. Hence, the court needs to have a detailed hearing after considering the law on the subject to decide against the Respondent no. 2 and 3.
However, the outstanding due amount of Rs. 19,39,241 at this stage is deemed to be payable and shall be made within a period of three weeks from the day of order.
The court also directed that the petitioner will be able to pursue the case against the respondents on merits once the court resumes working but if the courts do not resume the normal working by June 25, 2020, then the petitioner will be allowed to apply for reliefs in the petition through the same video conferencing mechanism.
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