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Friday, 2 March 2012

COPYRIGHT: Microfibres Inc. vs. Girdhar & Co., & Anr.

The Plaintiff was stated to be engaged worldwide in the business of manufacturing, marketing, selling and exporting of upholstery fabrics directly or through its subsidiaries and affiliates. It claimed that on all its upholstery fabrics n are printed unique and original artistic works conceptualized and drawn by and on behalf of the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff claimed that its artistic works enjoyed copyright protection in India as a consequence of the Berne and the Universal Copyright Conventions (India and the U.S. being members of the Conventions).  The upholstery fabrics manufactured and sold by the Defendants were stated to bear artistic works which were identical or colorable imitations of the Plaintiff’s  artistic works and thus constituted infringement of its copyright therein. 
In defence, the Defendants submitted:
(i) the Plaintiff’s artistic works were actually designs relating to textile  products which were aesthetic, ornamental and visual in nature  and thus came within the scope of the Designs Act, 2000;
(ii) the Plaintiff had failed to register these designs under the Designs  Act, 2000 or under its predecessor Act and, therefore, could not  claim protection under the Copyright Act;
(iii) the Plaintiff was itself conscious of the fact that registration was  required under the Designs Act since it had registered some of its  upholstery designs in the U.K. under the local Designs Act;
(iv) the certificates relied upon  and issued by the United States  Copyright Office referred to the subject work as fabric designs and  not artistic works;
(v) the Indian Patent and Design Office confirmed in writing that the  subject works were register able and being registered under the

Designs Act, 2000.

In rejoinder, the Plaintiff pointed out that the definition of “design” under the  new Designs Act, 2000 specifically excluded artistic works  and thus did not apply to its artistic works within the meaning of the Copyright Act, 1957.  In  other words, the Plaintiff argued that its upholstery fabric designs could not  have been registered under the Designs Act, 2000 by virtue of the exclusion of  artistic works and thus entitled to copyright protection under the Copyright Act.
Consequently, it was stated that the defence under Section 15 of the Copyright
Act did not apply. 
On its part, the Defendants submitted:
(i) that the interpretation advanced by the Plaintiff would have the  effect of rendering the law of  designs redundant for the simple  reason that each design registered thereunder would be able to  trace its origin to a diagram, chart, drawing and thus cease to be governed by the Designs Act;
 (ii) this could not have been the legislative intent  because the law of  designs is based on the same principle as that applicable to other  monopolies and to fuel industrial innovativeness by granting limited time limit to the monopolies and allow others to make use of them after they have passed into the public domain;
(iii) the plea of the Plaintiff, if accepted, would be anti competitive and would throttle and stagnate the industry;
(iv) that the legislative intent behind the repealed Designs Act, 1911 and that under the Designs Act, 2000 remained the same and the  exclusion of “artistic works” in the new definition was only clarificatory and intended to  exclude artistic works pure and  simple such as paintings, sculptures and works of art;
(v) the statement of objects and reasons of the Designs Bill, 1999 provided that the intent was to ensure that the law does not unnecessarily extend protection beyond what is necessary to create the required incentives for design activities while removing impediments to the very use of available designs;
(vi) the proceedings from the Parliamentary debate also showed that the Act was being amended to provide help and protecting the rights of designers;
(vii) the hand book issued by the Design Office for information to the public also specifically stated;
 “What can be registered as a Design?
- To qualify for registration as a design, an article should relate to the ornamental or new shape, surface pattern, lines or colour with aesthetic look  (designs or industrial plans,  layouts or installation are not registerable).
- It should be applicable to any product reproducible by industrial means (Paintings / Sculptures and ‘works of art’ excluded).
Finding merit in the defence raised by the Defendants, the High Court of Delhi dismissed the Plaintiff’s suit for injunction, holding: “in order for the work of the Plaintiff to qualify as an “artistic works”, it must fall within the definition of sub section (c ) of Section 2 of the Copyright Act. A reading of the said provisions would show that attempt of the Plaintiff can only be to bring it within the concept of “painting.”  The comparison with the paintings of M.F. Hussain would be otiose as the work in question, in the present case, is not a piece of art in the form of a painting. There is no doubt that labour has been put and there is some innovativeness applied to put a particular configuration in place.  Such configuration is of the motifs and designs which by themselves would not be original.  The originality is being claimed on the basis of the arrangements made.  What cannot be lost sight of is the very object with which such arrangements or works had been made.  The object is to put them to industrial use.   An industrial process has to be done to apply the work or configuration to the textile.  It is not something which has to be framed and put on the wall or would have any utility by itself.  The two important aspects are the object with which it is made (which is industrial) and its inability to stand by itself as a piece of art.  In fact, it has no independent existence of itself. In India, we have special legislation governing the protection of different nature of rights.  Insofar as the industrial designs are concerned, the protection is provided under the Designs Act, 2000…..An important and relevant aspect is that both under  the old Act and the new Act, fabric designs on textile goods have been classified as proper subject matter of design protection by inclusion as a  specific class in the Rules framed
under the Acts…
Furthermore, the legislative intent is also to be kept in mind which is to provide protection for a certain period of time for commercial exploitation.  Thus, nature of protection is quite different for an artistic work under the Copyright Act which is for the life time of the author / creator + 60 years.  This is not so in the case of commercial exploitation as under the Designs Act and the Patent Act, the period is much lesser.  In the present case, the configuration was made only with the object of putting it to industrial /commercial use.”
In view of the above findings, the High Court of Delhi dismissed the suit.

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