In the recent case of Tarun Wadhwa v Saregama India Limited(1) the Bombay High Court reiterated that copyright does not exist in an idea, but can be the subject of a breach of confidentiality.


Tarun Wadhwa (the plaintiff), an amateur film-maker, began working on an idea regarding a comedy movie about zombies in 2018 and finalised a synopsis under the name Haila! Zombie. The synopsis was registered with the Screenwriters Association (SWA) and presented to Yoodle Films, a division of Saregama India Limited (Saregama), the defendant. Saregama perused the synopsis and asked the plaintiff to submit a complete screenplay. Two draft screenplays were developed by the plaintiff and shared with Saregama. They were also registered with the SWA. After brief discussions on the synopsis and the screenplays, Saregama dropped the idea to continue with its production in January 2019. In around August 2020, it came to the attention of the plaintiff that Saregama had announced the production of a film titled Zombivli (the film), also based on zombies. The plaintiff then contacted Saregama demanding a screening of the film, which Saregama rejected. The plaintiff then filed an application to seek an injunction against Saregama to prevent the release of the film.

It was argued on behalf of the plaintiff that the film was so similar to the idea in the synopsis and the screenplay that the plaintiff had registered with SWA and shared with Saregama that if the idea was taken out of the film, the film would not hold together. It was further argued that the idea in the story of the film belonged to the plaintiff and Saregama could not use it without the plaintiff's consent. The plaintiff stated that such use caused a breach of confidentiality and infringed their copyright regarding the synopsis and screenplay, relying on the concept of "springboard doctrine". According to definitions provided by various courts, the "springboard doctrine" can be defined as follows: any information that has been obtained in confidence cannot be used as a springboard for activities that may cause harm to the person who has provided the confidential information.

It was further claimed that the plaintiff had copyright in the way the story of the film was arranged and was thus entitled to protection under the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956.

Saregama contended that the film was based on a story by Mahesh Iyer, the second defendant (Iyer), who had started work on it around 2018 and registered a concept note based on it in June 2018. A further expansion to the concept note by Iyer was registered in September 2018 and also in December 2018. Saregama further stated that Iyer had joined Saregama in January 2019 and had shared the story with it in May 2019. Saregama finally denied all the plaintiff's allegations, stating that since the film was based on the story by Iyer and not by the plaintiff, the accusation and application should be dismissed.


The Court started by stating that copyright exists only in the particular expression of an idea – that is, the particular arrangement of elements that in their individual capacity would not be susceptible to copyright. The Court further observed that breaches of confidentiality and copyright infringement are closely tied and, in most cases, the former can be claimed for matters that cannot be the subject of copyright. The Court reiterated that an idea, in particular, cannot be the subject of a copyright action,(2) but may be the subject of a breach of confidentiality.

The Court further held that a claim for copyright infringement could only be claimed if the case would fit under the provisions of the Copyright Act, which strictly states that "no copyright exists except as provided in the Act" – that is, if a person can satisfy the required mandates as provided in the Copyright Act, the Court would entertain a claim for copyright infringement and grant the necessary injunction. The Court observed that when two ideas are developed, there are similarities and the real test is to see whether:

a viewer or reader having seen both works, unmistakably concludes that the later work is a copy of the original. . . . if the two works are thematically the same, but treated and presented differently, there may be no question of copyright infringement.

The Court further cited the case of Zee Telefilms v Sundial Communications Pvt Limited.(3) This case refers to a test that, if satisfied, can establish a breach of confidence. The steps of the test are as follows:

  • identify clearly the information relied on;
  • show that it was handed over in circumstances of confidence;
  • show that it was information that had to be treated as confidential; and
  • show that it was used or threatened to be used without consent.

In the present case, the plaintiff was not able to satisfy the test as mentioned in Sundial Communications. The Court held that:

for a cause of action in breach of confidence to succeed there must be precision, there must be originality, and there must be completeness. All the required elements of confidentiality must be shown.

Finally, the Court concluded that:

once a plaintiff (has) disclaimed exclusivity in crucial concepts, and also does not show with precision and accuracy the matters outside copyright law for which breach of confidence protection is claimed, I do not see how an injunction can be granted. Both causes of action demand exactitude. It is not possible to grant injunctions on surmises or suppositions.

Therefore, the Court dismissed the application.

For further information on this topic please contact Kanav Rawat or Nikhil Shirsekar at Clasis Law by telephone (+91 11 4213 0000) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Clasis Law website can be accessed at www.clasislaw.com.


(1) Interim Application (L) No. 4371 of 2021 in Comm IP Suit (L) No. 4366 of 2021.

(2) Dashrath B Rathod v Fox Star Studios India Pvt Ltd, 2017 (70) PTC 104 (Bom); Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd v Sony Pictures Pvt Ltd, AIR 2017 Bom 221.

(3) 2003 SCC OnLine Bom 344.