Understanding Copyright Infringement through Global Music Junction v. Annapurna Films Pvt. Ltd and Implications of Order XXXIX Rule 2A

Understanding Copyright Infringement through Global Music Junction v. Annapurna Films Pvt. Ltd and Implications of Order XXXIX Rule 2AThe case pertains to a dispute between the plaintiff, Global Music Junction Pvt. Ltd., which is a music company that specialises in the production of music entertainment content along with its distribution and monetisation, and the defendant, Mr. Shatrughan Kumar, who is famously known as Khesari Lal Yadav. The defendant is a popular Bhojpuri artist who entered into a production agreement with the plaintiff.

They underwent substantive negotiations and entered into a Production Agreement in June 2021, in which the plaintiff was granted ownership of all the intellectual property rights in the content and songs created by Mr Shatrughan Kumar, the Defendant. The defendant actively committed to creating exclusive content with the plaintiff.

Emerging Differences Lead to Disputes

Disputes emerged between the parties after the agreement, and the parties resorted to signing an addendum that extended the original agreement to September 30, 2025. The monthly song delivery quotas were extended to eight songs per month, and payments were structured on a per-song basis. The defendant was also allowed a 10% annual profit share. Further, the addendum relaxed the exclusivity obligations, but this was conditional to the plaintiff’s right of first refusal. The defendant could offer the songs to others only if it was refused by the plaintiff. The addendum did not change the ownership of copyright and intellectual property rights, which remained vested with the plaintiff.

The incongruity arose when the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had breached the terms of the contract and had infringed the copyright and exclusivity obligations by creating content and allowing third parties to promote and monetise it.

Suit by the Plaintiff

A suit was instituted against the defendant, and pending, the plaintiff sought an interim injunction. The relief was granted via an ex-parte order by the Delhi High Court. The relief was then vacated, and finally, via an order passed by a Division Bench of the same Court, limited injunctive relief was again granted to the plaintiff on September 5, 2023.

Additionally, the Court clarified that the defendant was not impeded from singing, acting, or dancing in the Bhojpuri Fim Industry. This extended to stage performances, social media platforms, and national television channels as well. Notably, the Court made this conditional to the plaintiff’s right of first refusal. The order of the Division Bench, which reintroduced the restraint, was different from the initial ex-parte order.

On September 21, 2023, the plaintiff sent several notices to various entities that are their competitors, including but not limited to YouTube LLC and other such social media platforms. The communications and notices effectively portrayed that the order of the division bench had re-instated the ex-parte order of the High Court rather than asking them to comply with the latter order.

Facts pertaining to the application in question

This judgment pertains to an invocation of the contempt jurisdiction of the High Court. However, this case is unusual because the invocation is by the Defendant (Mr. Shatrughan Kumar) and not the Plaintiff (Global Music Junction Pvt. Ltd.). The defendant alleged that the plaintiff had wilfully disobeyed the orders by misrepresenting facts to the collaborators of the defendant, and this contumacious action of the plaintiff amounted to contempt of Court.

The defendant claimed that the plaintiff had misrepresented the injunction orders of the Division Bench and portrayed to the other collaborators that he was prohibited from working with any of them and was exclusively engaged with the plaintiff. This forced the other platforms to remove all the songs of the artist and left him unable to avail professional opportunities.

On February 21, 2024, the Court heard the defendant and adjudicated that the actions of the plaintiff were prima facie contempt of Court. The plaintiff was ordered to issue clarificatory notices in addition to being restricted from directly writing or communicating with any party to seek enforcement of the injunction order. The plaintiff appealed this, and the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court remanded the matter back to the single-judge bench. On March 19, 2024, the Court heard the Senior Counsels for both sides on the merits of that application.

Arguments offered by the defendant

The Senior Counsel for the defendant argued the maintainability of the petition on the basis of two points. Firstly, he argued that a plain perusal of Order XXXIX Rule 2A of the CPC shows that it can be invoked by anyone who is injured by the breach of an injunction or the conditions on which said the injunction was granted. It is not limited to the party in whose favour the injunction had been granted.

Secondly, he argued that even if the application could not be maintained under the aforementioned Order and Rule, the Court had the power to take cognisance of the actions undertaken by the plaintiff and issue remedial directions to that end. He argued that Section 151 of the CPC when read collectively with the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, vested the Court with extensive powers to rectify the wrongdoings committed by parties.

Arguments offered by the plaintiff

The Senior Counsel for the Plaintiff argued that the petition was not maintainable because Order XXXIX Rule 2A of CPC only allowed the party in whose favour the injunction had been granted to file the said application, and this could only be done against a party against whom the injunction was operating. Further, he argued that there was a direction issued to the plaintiff with respect to monetary deposit in Court, which could not be interpreted as a restraint.

Additionally, the preponderance of evidence was in favour of the plaintiff, as the defendant had not successfully established that his videos had been taken down solely based on the communications sent out by the plaintiff. The defendant also failed to show that the songs taken down were not related to the agreement between the parties, nor could he show that they did not come under the purview of the order passed by the Division Bench.

Incidentally, the defendant had also filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court which was pending under defects. They had not even pursued that remedy assiduously before filing the application being adjudged. This showed that the defendant had mala fide intentions to frustrate the order of the Division Bench.

The Senior Counsel further argued that the notices and communications were sent to established entities in the music industry who had access to competent legal advice, and there was complete disclosure of the orders from their side. Moreover, after the Court had directed them on February 21, 2024, they sent further communications of a clarificatory nature to the entities and filed a compliance affidavit. Therefore, the objections of the defendant were overcome via that action.

Finally, he argued that if the plaintiff was disallowed from issuing further legal notices to enforce the order of the Division Bench, it would interfere with their legal and constitutional rights. This would also be a preventative measure for the third parties, as they would lose the opportunity to comply with the order before being dragged into a cumbersome litigation process. No case was made against the plaintiff of either a civil or criminal nature, and hence, the application should be dismissed.

The interpretation of the Court with respect to Rule 2A of Order XXXIX

The Court found that Rule 2A of Order XXXIX specifically addresses the consequences of disobedience of an injunction and it was not party-specific. A court-issued order could be applied to both parties equally in cases such as maintenance of status quo or to third parties. An invocation of the contempt proceedings could be by either party in such a case. Therefore, the argument that a Defendant could not invoke the said rule was not tenable.

Further, the Court also asserted its powers to penalise disobedience and asserted that the powers were necessary to ensure that the legal process was complied with in a timely manner. However, in cases of civil contempt, the action for contempt must be directed against the party who is subject to the injunction.

The Court noted that the intentions of the plaintiff in sending their legal notices, which would be construed to enforce the ex-parte order, did not seem bona fide because their notices emphatically stated that the first restraining order was to be “applied with full force and effect”. Moreover, it was a truism that the Plaintiff company had access to expert and advanced legal counsel as well, so it would be far-fetched to believe that the communications made were not deliberate. While this does amount to a departure from appropriate legal behaviour, it does not fulfil the rigorous conditions that are a prerequisite to commencing contempt proceedings under Order XXXIX Rule 2A. Contempt proceedings are heavily dependent on willful disobedience and defiance, especially when it comes to cases of civil contempt.

The Court relied on Food Corporation of India v. Sukh Deo Prasad, in which the Supreme Court emphasised that the existence of a specific court order against a party is an essential prerequisite for civil contempt.

With Respect to Criminal Contempt

Discussing whether criminal contempt under the Contempt of Courts Act could be applied, the Court noted that an action of criminal contempt could be initiated by the Court taking suo moto cognisance or with the written consent of the Advocate General of India, neither of which of the two conditions had been fulfilled. The Court held that the miscommunication on the part of the plaintiff did not constitute an undermining of the Court’s authority, and, therefore, criminal proceedings could not be initiated.

To bolster its argument, the Court relied on Bal Thackrey v. Harish Pimpalkhute, which categorically stated that the “use of inherent powers must be judicious and not excessive.” The Court noted that no injunction operated against the plaintiff, and they had taken proactive corrective measures to rectify their mistake.

Parenthetically, emphasis was also placed on the fact that, henceforth, the Plaintiffs had to ensure that they gave an authentic and meticulous representation of the Court’s directions to ensure they did not misrepresent it.

Takeaways and Conclusion

The Court thus concluded that the application under Order XXXIX Rule 2A was not maintainable because the injunction was not against the plaintiff. Moreover, there was no restriction on the plaintiff put via the injunction, which could have acted in favour of the defendant. The Court tried to balance the breach of copyright of the plaintiff without prejudice to the rights of the defendant. While recognising its powers, the Court also recognised the limitations placed on them while assessing any wrong committed, especially in cases where the parties had rectified their mistakes. Instead of choosing to act like an all-powerful entity, the Court limited itself to acting against egregious breaches of directions only.

Authors: Manisha Singh and Akshadha Mishra

First Published by: Lexology here