Hulm Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. and Ors. Vs. Fantasy Sports Myfab11 Pvt. Ltd. and Ors. -Delhi High Court decision

Facts of the case:

  1. Plaintiffs claim that they have formulated their own Fantasy Sport Mobile App which differs from the prevalent Fantasy Games Leagues. Plaintiffs’ Fantasy Sports Game is registered under the Copyright Act, 1957 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act 1957’) and being literary/dramatic work, the copyright work includes detailed working of the fantasy game including ‘Object of the Game’ and the ‘Components’, which explain each and every step that a user experiences on its mobile application, such as the components of the ‘Home page’, ‘My Portfolio page’, ‘My Balance page’, the process of verifying the account, a detailed point system, rules and regulations. Plaintiffs’ work also contains steps to add/withdraw money to/from the ‘Wallet’ through multiple payment options. It is further averred that an in-house team of designers and developers of Plaintiff No.1 has worked extensively to design the GUI of the Mobile App.
  2. Defendant has introduced a new update on plaintiff’s Fantasy Sports League Mobile App MYFAB11 in the form of a new feature titled ‘STOCKS’. Plaintiff claimed that Defendants have copied not only the concept but also its working, features and execution of Plaintiffs’ buy/sell interface. One day before the launch of Indian Premier Leagues’ first match on 26th March 2022, that Defendants launched a new version that copies their App features. Thus, according to the Plaintiffs, amounts to exploiting their success, goodwill and reputation and infringement of the copyright. Plaintiffs hence alleged infringement of the copyright in the GUI and concept note, in addition to data theft of their curated data and unfair competition.
  3. This Court granted an ex parte injunction vide order dated 13th April 2022 against the Defendants restraining the Defendants from making available for downloads or in any manner unauthorizedly using Plaintiffs’ copyrighted work through MYFAB11 App or any other similar App using the impugned application or computer programme so as to result in infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works. The judgment deals with two applications, one filed by the Plaintiffs to confiurm the injunction and the other by Defendant, seeking setting aside of ex parte ad-interim injunction.

The court held:

  1. There can be no dispute with the legal proposition that copyright is not concerned with novelty of ideas as that is the subject matter of the Patents Act, 1970. What copyright law concerns is the expression of thought in a concrete form. The ideas, themes, etc. being common property cannot be subject matter of copyright, but they can be developed and given expression by treating them differently to claim copyright.
  2. Therefore, the onus was on the Plaintiffs to show that despite the existence of earlier apps containing the stock market/trading feature, the gaming mobile app of the Plaintiffs in question was developed in a manner that the expression of the idea made it distinct from the rest. The question is whether the Plaintiffs only adopted the pre-existing idea or reproduced the idea in a different form, tone or tenor so as to give it a new expression and infuse new life into the idea. In this backdrop, if the mobile app of the Plaintiffs is examined, Plaintiffs have failed to discharge the onus. The comparison of the features of the prior existing third party apps with Plaintiffs’ mobile app, fortifies the stand of the Defendants that the distinguishing features are not enough for the Plaintiffs to cross the threshold of idea- expression dichotomy to claim originality and consequently protection in the gaming app and copyright infringement.
  3. Defendants have demonstrated the existence of gaming applications both in India and abroad with the trading/stock feature prior to the launch of EXCHANGE22 and therefore, no originality can be claimed in the concept note and consequently, there can be no monopoly and infringement of the copyright therein.
  4. Regarding the claim on GUI, plaintiffs have only compared the GUIs of the two rival applications by taking respective screenshots of the various features incorporated therein. The skeletal pleadings on this aspect do not highlight in which element of the GUI Plaintiffs claim copyright and is thus infringed. A Graphical User Interface combines three elements, a computer programme which enables functionality and appearance of the GUI, the artistic/graphic elements of the visual display and the text/literary works in the GUI, which are visible to the user. There is no pleading in the plaint claiming copyright in ‘artistic work’ and therefore, no claim can be laid to a copyright in the graphic elements of the visual display of GUI. Likewise, there is no pleading claiming copyright in a ‘computer programme’ and therefore, no monopoly can be sought over the functionality or the visual display occasioned by a computer programme. As regards ‘literary work’, the only context is the concept note for which, as noted above, there are no pleadings of how the gaming application of the Defendants substantially copies the concept note.
  5. On a careful analysis of the GUIs of the rival apps and their elements, the Court concluded that the User Interface of the Defendants is not a substantial copy of the GUI of Plaintiffs’ app. This is more so because, after the legal notice sent by the Plaintiffs, Defendants have made substantial changes in their app.
  6. Thus, the court ruled that there is no copyright infringement by the Defendants, and the injunction was set aside.

Our comment

The Case touches upon the concept of GUI and treats it as a subject matter of copyright. There is a growing clamor that GUI should be protected as a Design . A recent decision of the Kolkata High court Ust Global (Singapore) Pte Ltd vs The Controller of Patents and another AID No. 2 of 2019 has laid down important observations in favour of registrability of the GUI. The court noted that the Design office refusal to grant protection to GUI ignored the amendments made to the Designs Rules in 2019 and 2021. Class 14.04 of the Locarno Classification, which was introduced by the 2019 amendment, specifically allows the registrability of “Screen Displays and Icons”. Additionally, the amendments made in 2021 introduced Class 32, containing graphic symbols, graphic designs, logos, ornamentation, and surface patterns.

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