M/S. Zee Telefilms Ltd. (Now Known … vs Suresh Productions Rep. By Its … on 25 February, 2020


Supreme Court of India

M/S. Zee Telefilms Ltd. (Now Known … vs Suresh Productions Rep. By Its … on 25 February, 2020

Author: Ashok Bhushan

Bench: Ashok Bhushan, Navin Sinha

                                                  1


                                                                      REPORTABLE

                                 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                  CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO.1716 OF 2020
                          (arising out of SLP (C) No. 37416 of 2016)


         M/S. ZEE TELEFILMS LTD.                               ...APPELLANT(S)
         (NOW KNOWN AS ZEE ENTERTAINMENT
          ENTERPRISES LTD.)
                                 VERSUS

         SURESH PRODUCTIONS & ORS.                            ...RESPONDENT(S)



                                         J U D G M E N T

ASHOK BHUSHAN, J.

This appeal has been filed by the defendant against

the judgment of the High Court of Judicature at

Hyderabad for the State of Telangana and the State of

Andhra Pradesh dated 11.03.2016 allowing the

plaintiffs’ appeal.

2. Brief facts of the case for deciding this appeal

are:

Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by
MEENAKSHI KOHLI
Date: 2020.02.26
09:54:36 IST
The parties shall be referred to as described in
Reason:

the suit. The plaintiffs have been carrying on business
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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. 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. 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. Defendant

No.3 had also lodged complaint against 4th defendant
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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.

3. 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. 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
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Civil Courts, Hyderabad, for declaration that defendant

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.

4. 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. 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
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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. 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.

5. The trial court framed the following 10 issues:
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1) Whether the suit is barred by limitation?

2) Whether the suit is barred by res judicata
in view of decree in O.S.Nos.18 to 21 of
1996?

3) Whether the plaintiffs acquiesced the
infringement of copy right of the scheduled
films?

4) Whether the claim of Defendant No.1 over the
plaint schedule films is true?

5) Whether the suit transactions, as alleged by
the plaintiffs are true, valid and binding
on the defendants?

6) Whether the plaintiffs are entitled to the
declaration as prayed for?

7) Whether the plaintiffs are entitled to the
perpetual injunction as prayed for?

8) Whether the plaintiffs are entitled to the
delivery of tapes etc., as prayed for?

9) Whether the plaintiffs are entitled to the
damages, as prayed for?

10) To what relief?”

6. On Issue No.1 trial court held that cause of action

for filing the suit arose in the year 1995 itself when

the plaintiff got knowledge of the claims of the first

defendant over the given films and they have chosen to
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give report to the police in respect of the agreement

dated 10.10.1994. Trial Court held that they slept over

their rights for eight long years, hence, the suit

claim is hopelessly barred by limitation.

7. On Issue No.2, trial court held that suit is not

barred by principle of res judicata. Issue Nos.4 to 9

were answered in favour of the plaintiffs, it was held

that the plaintiffs’ claim over the suit scheduled

films is proved. The agreement dated 23.12.1994 was

held to be proved whereas defendants have failed to

prove the assignment dated 10.10.1994. The transactions

alleged to have been entered into between 4th defendant

and 3rd defendant in respect of 16 films was held not

to be proved. Issue No.3 was also decided in favour of

the plaintiffs. Trial court, however, in view of

finding on Issue No.1 that suit is barred by limitation

dismissed the suit by its judgment dated 09.03.2011.

8. The plaintiffs aggrieved by the judgment of the

trial court filed appeal before the Hight Court which

appeal has been allowed by the High Court by impugned

judgment dated 11.03.2016. The High Court noticed in
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the judgment that only point for determination in the

appeal is: “Whether the finding of the trial court that

suit was barred by limitation is factually and legally

correct?” The High Court after considering the

submissions of the learned counsel of the parties held

that suit filed by the plaintiffs was not barred by

limitation.

9. The High Court held 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 favour

of the plaintiffs. Defendant No.1 aggrieved by the

judgment of the High Court has come up in this appeal.

10. Shri Sridhar Potaraju, learned counsel for the

appellant submits that the plaintiffs had knowledge of

violation of their rights qua scheduled 16 films in the

year 1995. It is submitted that defendant No.3 has

filed S.C. Suit No.281 of 1995 in Mumbai for
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declaration and injunction against defendant No.4 where

reference of agreement dated 10.10.1994 and 17.10.1994

was made. PW.1, D. Suresh Babu who appeared as witness

in the present suit admitted having knowledge of the

suit filed in the Bombay Court. It is further submitted

that defendant Nos.4 to 8 had filed O.s.No.221 to 225

of 1995 for declaration and injunction against

plaintiff No.1 and defendant Nos. 3 and 4 before the

City Civil Court, Hyderabad which suit was subsequently

dismissed. Plaintiff Nos.1 to 4 has also filed

O.S.No.16 of 1996 in the Court of Chief Judge, City

Civil Court, Hyderabad against defendant Nos.3,4 and 8

qua 3 films. The above facts clearly indicate that they

had full knowledge of infringement of their right and

ought to have filed suit within the period of

limitation. He submits that Article 58 of the Indian

Limitation Act provides that suit can be filed within

three years from the date when the cause of action

first arose. He further contends that plaintiff being

aware of the claim of the defendants as reflected in

various litigations and having not taken any action

acquiesced to the claim of the defendants, hence, the
10

suit is liable to be dismissed on the principle of

acquiescence.

11. Learned counsel for the respondents, Shri T.

Raghuram refuting the submissions of the appellants

contends that the High Court after considering the

materials on record has rightly come to the conclusion

that the suit was not barred by time. It is submitted

that the alleged assignments dated 10.10.1994 and

17.10.1994 which are foundation of the case of the

defendants having not been proved in the suit and the

trial court itself has found that the said assignments

have not been proved, there was no cause of action to

the plaintiff to file suit in the year 1995. It is

submitted that assignment dated 23.12.1994 by the

plaintiff in favour of defendant No.4 has been proved

by which plaintiff has assigned broadcasting rights to

defendant No.5 to 9 for a period of 9 years. The

plaintiff was not concerned about the telecasting of

films during the said period.It is submitted that cause

of action arose to the plaintiff when they published

notice in the Film Information Magazine with regard to

prosecute their right to which reply was given on
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27.09.2003. It is submitted that cause of action arose

when reply dated 14.10.2003 was received from defendant

No.1 which claimed rights to the aforesaid 16 films.

It is submitted that the suit of the plaintiffs was

well within time and the High Court has rightly come

to the said conclusion.

12. We have heard learned counsel for the parties and

perused the records.

13. The plaintiff’s case in the plaint was that

plaintiffs have assigned telecasting right of 16

schedule films by 6 assignment deeds dated 23.12.1994

for a period of 9 years in favour of defendant No.5 to

8 as requested by defendant No.4. The trial court in

its judgment while considering the Issue Nos.4 to 9 has

specifically considered the assignment deed dated

23.12.1994. While answering Issue Nos.4 to 9 especially

assignment deed dated 23.12.1994 by the plaintiff in

favour of defendant No.5 to 8 at the instance of

defendant No.4, the trial court recorded the following

finding:

“It is an undisputed fact that originally
copyright holders in respect of suit schedule
films have been the plaintiffs firms only. D.W.1
also accepted the same. It is the contention of
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the plaintiffs that Sr.D. Rama Naidu,
representing plaintiffs firm has entered into
assigned agreement with fourth defendant and
assigned satellite and broadcasting rights over
the suit schedule films for a period of nine
years from 23.12.1994 to the nominees of fourth
defendant i.e. Defendant No.5 to 8 for valuable
consideration received by the plaintiffs from
fourth defendant and acknowledging said
assignment and receipt of the consideration vide
letter dated 23.12.1994. Exs. A7 to A12 are
assignment agreements pertaining to Defendant
Nos.5 to 8. Defendant Nos. 4,5,6 and 8 have not
chosen to contest the suit by filing written
statement, though they appeared before the Court
through their respective advocates. They have not
even cross-examined the witnesses examined for
plaintiff and first defendant and they have not
adduced any evidence either. Thus, it is to be
taken that, they are not actually disputing with
the claims of the plaintiffs. By examining P.W.1
before the court and by producing Exs.A7 to A12,
plaintiffs could establish their claims in
respect of assignment agreement entered into by
plaintiffs with fourth defendant and their
assignment rights over the suit schedule films
and also expiry of the period of said assignment
prior to the date of filing of this suit.”

14. 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
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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. It is submitted by

the counsel for the appellants that even though D.

Suresh Babu filed a police complaint in the year 1995

itself with regard to the alleged assignment dated

10.10.1994 but no further proceedings were taken by

D.Suresh Babu thereafter. The trial court in its

judgment has also returned a finding that the

assignment dated 10.10.1994 by D. Suresh Babu in favour

of defendant No.4 and assignment dated 17.10.1994 by

defendant No.4 to 3 has not been proved. The trial

court has itself returned the finding in paragraph

10(iv) to the following effect:

“10(iv) In such circumstances, it is the bounden
duty of the defendants, who are relying upon such
document i.e. assignment deed dated 10.10.1994
to establish that such document has been executed
by P.W.1 conveying satellite broadcasting rights
and other rights over the suit schedule films to
fourth Defendant. But no such evidence is adduced
on record. Neither original nor any authenticated
copy of the said document is produced before the
Court. Further, documents relating to transaction
14

alleged to have been entered into between fourth
defendant and third defendant in respect of these
films, also have not been produced before the
Court. No evidence is adduced on record to
establish the claims of the contesting defendants
in respect of transfer of satellite broadcasting
rights over the suit schedule films from one to
another among Defendant Nos.3 and 4.”

15. The trial court by its judgment dismissed the

plaintiffs’ suit having accepted the case of the

plaintiffs regarding assignment of telecasting rights

of said schedule films i.e. assignment of 23.12.1994

in favour of defendant Nos. 5 to 8 at the request of

defendant No.4 for 9 years. The plaintiffs’ claim for

the right of schedule films arose only after

22.12.2003. They having parted with their right, there

was no real threat to their right by any inter-se

dispute between defendant Nos.4 and 3 or other

defendants. It was on 22.12.2003 that plaintiffs again

became entitled to assign telecasting rights of the

aforesaid 16 films after the expiry of the period of 9

years of assigning the telecasting right of 16 films

to defendant Nos.5 to 8 on the request of the defendant

No.4 on valuable consideration.

16. The trial court while discussing Issue No.1 had
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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.

17. 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 dated 23.12.1994, 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. This
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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.

In paragraphs 14 and 15 following was laid down:

“14. In support of the contention that the
suit was filed within the period of limitation,
the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the
appellant-plaintiffs before us submitted that
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 by
the defendant against whom the suit is
instituted. In support of this contention the
learned Senior Counsel strongly relied on a
decision of the Privy Council in Bolo v.
Koklan
, AIR 1930 PC 270. In this decision Their
Lordships of the Privy Council observed as
follows: (IA p. 331)

“… 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.”

15. A similar view was reiterated in C.

Mohammad Yunus v. Syed Unnissa,AIR 1961 SC 808,
in which this Court observed: (AIR p. 810, para

7)

“7. … 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
17

accrual of the right asserted in the suit
and its infringement or at least a clear
and unequivocal threat to infringe that
right.”

In C. Mohammad Yunus, this Court held that the
cause of action for the purposes of Article 58
of the Act accrues only when the right asserted
in the suit is infringed or there is at least a
clear and unequivocal threat to infringe that
right. Therefore, the mere existence of an
adverse entry in the revenue records cannot give
rise to cause of action.”

18. We are 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, 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.

………………….J.

( ASHOK BHUSHAN )

………………….J.

( NAVIN SINHA )
New Delhi,
February 25, 2020.



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