There can be no ‘right to sue’ until there is an accrual of the right asserted in the suit and its infringement, or at least a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe that right, by the defendant against whom the suit is instituted.


CASE BRIEF: M/S. ZEE TELEFILMS LTD V/s SURESH PRODUCTIONS & ORS.


CASE NAME: M/S. ZEE TELEFILMS LTD V/s SURESH PRODUCTIONS & ORS.

CITATION: CIVIL APPEAL NO.1716 OF 2020

COURT: THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

BENCH: ASHOK BHUSHAN, J.

NAVIN SINHA. J.

DECIDED ON: February 25, 2020.

RELEVENT STATUTES: The Limitation Act, 1963

The Copyright Act, 1957

The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908


BRIEF FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

1. The plaintiffs have been carrying on business of producing, distributing and exhibiting cinematographic films. On a request of 4th defendant, M/s. N.S. Films, the plaintiffs on 23.12.1994 assigned to four persons nominated by 4th defendant satellite broadcasting rights of 16 Hindi films for a period of 9 years.

2. The assignments were made by six assignment deeds all dated 23.12.1994. In the year 1995, plaintiffs came to know about the pendency of the Small Causes Suit filed in Bombay, Small Causes Suit No.281 of 1995 by 3rd defendant, M/s. Asia Vision against the 4th defendant seeking for relief of declaration and injunction in respect of above 16 films, on the basis of certain documents purporting to be a deed of assignment dated 07.10.1994 and declaration dated 15.10.1994 allegedly assigned by D. Suresh Babu assigning satellite and Doordarshan rights in favour of 4th defendant.

3. The suit at Bombay was filed on the basis of notarised of the said forged documents. Shri D. Ramesh Babu, Director of first plaintiff lodged a complaint with the Police Station, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad complaining about the said forgery.

4. Defendant No.3 had also lodged complaint against 4th defendant and plaintiffs at Mumbai. Several criminal proceedings were filed by the plaintiffs as well as by defendant Nos.3 to 8. However, suit filed by the other parties came to be dismissed for default and controversy was subsided.

5. The plaintiffs issued a public notice in the Film Information Magazine on 27.09.2003 with respect to the above said 16 Hindi films. A legal notice from first defendant on 14.10.2003 in reply to the notice of the plaintiffs was received where defendant No.1 claimed that they have acquired satellite broadcasting, Pay TV and Cable TV rights of all above 16 Hindi films from defendant No.2, M/s. B.N.U. & Co. vide deed of assignment dated 21.03.1997 for a period of 99 years and that, M/s. B.N.U. & Co. had in turn acquired the said rights from M/s. Asia Vision, defendant No.3, vide agreement dated 16.03.1997.

6. The first defendant called upon the plaintiffs to withdraw the said public notice. The plaintiffs sent reply dated 17.10.2003 refuting the facts in the notice of the first defendant. The plaintiffs filed Original Suit No.392 of 2003 on 11.11.2003 before the Chief Judge, City Nos.1 to 4 have no manner of right, title and interest in the Copyright in respect of the scheduled films, to pass a decree of perpetual injunction against defendant Nos. 1 to 4.

7.  First defendant filed written statement. It was pleaded that D. Suresh Babu representing the plaintiff Nos.1, 3 and 4 assigned T.V. Doordarshan and world satellite rights in the said 16 films in favour of 4th defendant on 10.10.1994 for a valuable consideration of Rs.55,00,000/-. The 6 assignment deeds dated 23.12.1994 was alleged to be manufactured for the purpose of claiming rights in the suit scheduled films. Although, the above plaintiffs have already been divested of their rights by assignment dated 10.10.1994 with 4th defendant.

8. Under deed of assignment dated 17.10.1994, the 4th defendant had assigned the rights to third defendant and third defendant in turn assigned the rights to second defendant by deed of assignment dated 16.03.1997. First defendant claims deed of assignment from second defendant by assignment deed dated 21.03.1997. First defendant pleaded that from 21.03.1997 it has been exercising the satellite broadcasting rights acquired under the deed of assignment and the suit scheduled films have been telecasted as many as 223 times on various occasions since August 1997 till date.

9.  The allegations made in the plaint were denied. Defendant No.2 adopted the written statement filed by defendant No.3. Defendant No.3 also filed a written statement which was in the line of the written statement filed by defendant No.1. Reference of Suit No.221 to 225 of 1995 filed by the defendant Nos.4 to 8 was also made which were dismissed on 31.08.2000, the defendant No.3 claimed to be bona fide purchasers of suit scheduled 16 films for a valuable consideration, with regard to Small Causes Suit Nos. 281 of 1995 filed by defendant No.3 against defendant No.4 through Mrs. Nalini Shanker it was stated that it was not necessary to pursue as Small Causes Court, Mumbai was not having jurisdiction. It was pleaded that the plaintiffs were very well aware of as back as 1994 rights acquired from the plaintiffs on 10.10.1994.


ISSUES:

1. Whether the suit is barred by limitation?


RATIO OF THE COURT:

1. The High Courtheld that in the year 1995 defendant Nos.1 and 2 were not in the scene and so the question of plaintiffs taking action against them does not arise. It held that to the plaintiffs cause of action arose for the first time when defendant No.1 issued notice dated 14.10.2003 and the suit having filed immediately thereafter was well within time. The High Court allowed the appeal and decreed the suit in favourof the plaintiffs. Defendant No.1 aggrieved by the judgment of the High Court has come up in this appeal.

2. When the plaintiffs assigned their rights to defendant Nos.5 to 8 on the request of defendant No.4 for a period of 9 years, plaintiffs having parted with their satellite rights could not have claimed any right for telecasting during the aforesaid period of 9 years. Inter se dispute between defendant Nos.4 and 3 which begun with filing suit in Mumbai could not have been any cause of action for the plaintiffs to file a suit claiming telecasting rights for themselves. Furthermore, it was the case of the defendant No.3 itself that dispute between defendant No.3 and 4 subsided when the suit filed by defendant No.3 was returned in the year 1995 itself.

3. The trial court while discussing Issue had observed that cause of occasion arose in the year 1995 itself when the plaintiff got knowledge of claim of the first defendant over the given films and plaintiffs have chosen to file the suit in the year 2003 in respect of agreement dated 10.10.1994. The trial court further held that plaintiffs sat over their rights for eight long years, hence, suit is barred by time.The suit which was filed in the year 1995 by defendant No.3 against defendant No.4 in the Small Causes Court, Mumbai where assignments dated 10.10.1994 and 17.10.1994 were referred to got dismissed in the year 1995 itself as Small Causes Court had no jurisdiction to consider the claim of defendant No.3.

4. Cause of action to a plaintiff to file a suit accrues when there is a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe a right. The plaintiff having already assigned their right for a period of 9 years by assignment deed dated23.12.1994, there was no cause of action during the aforesaid period of 9 years. When the plaintiffs had already parted with their right of telecasting films on 23.12.1994 there could not have been any threat to their right in the year 1995.

5. This Court in Daya Singh and another vs. Gurdev Singh (Dead) by Lrs. And others, (2010) 2 SCC 194, had laid down that a right to sue accrues when there is a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe a right of plaintiff.

6. A similar view was reiterated in C. Mohammad Yunus v. Syed Unnissa,AIR 1961 SC 808, in which this Court observed: “The period of six years prescribed by Article 120 has to be computed from the date when the right to sue accrues and there could be no right to sue until there is an accrual of the right asserted in the suit and its infringement or at least a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe that right.”Thus the court is of the view that in view of the pleadings on the record and facts of the present case, suit filed by the plaintiffs is well within limitation.


DECISION HELD:

The court in view of the pleadings on the record and facts of the present case held that the suit filed by the plaintiffs is well within limitation, the finding of the High Court that the suit is within limitation is based on correct appreciation of facts and pleadings. We do not find any merit in this appeal. The appeal is dismissed.

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