Urmi Juvekar Vs CNN IBN

IN Media Practice | 14/06/2007
A reconstruction from available accounts of how a film maker fought and won a copyright case against a leading TV channel.

On 9th November 2005, documentary film maker and scriptwriter Urmi Juvekar registered a concept for a reality television show called `Work in Progress` with the Film Writers` Association.

The concept was simple: three citizens or citizen`s groups at three locations across the country take up a troublesome civic issue and try to solve it on a campaign footing within a month. Reporters and cameras from a channel follow the story as it unfolds. Every night on the news bulletins of the channel a 3-minute capsule keeps us updated on the developments at each location. At the end of the first three weeks we see a 60 minute episode of the week`s developments with a forward look to the upcoming week. A concluding 60 minute finale comes at end of the month.

This was a project that would draw public attention to all the good work of activists under the Right to Information Act. A tremendous idea for civic education and involvement, the immediate daily TV coverage during the course of the campaign would have had implications for the progress of the cases followed. Such an idea for a reality-based programme could only have been realised with the resources which a TV news channel, with its network of people all over the country, can provide.

Here is how the story unfolded:

10th March 2006, Urmi wrote to Rasika Tyagi from CNN IBN after a telephonic conversation and e-mailed her the concept note.

21st March 2006, Rasika Tyagi wrote back saying that she found the concept note interesting and asked for a meeting.

3rd April 2006, a meeting is held in the CNN IBN office in Delhi. A detailed concept note with treatment, sample characters and episode development is presented along with the budget and production plan. The budget is deemed to be high and CNN IBN offers some in-house facilities to bring costs down.

They also suggest an option of doing it in two languages so that it can be broadcast on IBN 7 simultaneously.

Several more discussions are held in subsequent months and finally Urmi is informed that the project will be considered after World Cup 2007.

14th May 2007, CNN IBN puts on a new show `Summer Showdown`. It is a daily   3-minute capsule, but has no the-end-of-the-week review. Their website ibnlive.com advertises it as a reality show showcasing five families across five metros solving their civic problems in 4 weeks.

19th May 2007, Urmi is informed by friends that a show that looks very similar to her `Work in Progress` is on air and she manages to see the show.

21st May 2007, Urmi rushes to the Bombay High Court. The case is scheduled for 23rd May in front of the vacation judge. She claims infringement of copyright and breach of confidentiality.

23rd May 2007, counsel for CNN IBN makes a statement in court that `Summer Showdown` is not a reality show but a live news clipping. The court asks them to give an affidavit stating the same.

24th May 2007, CNN IBN asks the judge to change the order. Now they admit that Summer Showdown` is a reality-based programme but insist that it is not based on `Work in Progress`. They claim that their previous day`s statement in the court was misunderstood. Their appeal is rejected and they are asked to file an affidavit on the 31st stating that `Summer Showdown` is a live news clipping and not based on Urmi`s project.

29th May 2007, CNN IBN files an affidavit only stating that they have not copied Urmi`s idea. They also state that ideas are not protected by copyright. The affidavit is filled with contradictory statements. `Summer Showdown` now becomes a race between various civic authorities in completing summer-related problems in four weeks. Traffic, monsoon and garbage are portrayed as summer problems. In a play of semantics, the civic problems dealt in `Summer Showdown` become macro level while the problems suggested  for `Work in Progress` problems are stated to be local and at micro level.

At the same time the CNN IBN website continues to feature `Summer Showdown` as a tale of five families across the country trying to solve civic problems.

Urmi`s sample episodes demonstrating the concept are dismissed as fiction scripts. According to CNN IBN, her 25 page project proposal is a mere idea. Well known anchor Rajdeep Sardesai denies knowledge of the matter while his e-mail replies to Urmi state otherwise.

4th June 2007, Urmi sends a rejoinder, exposing the contradictions in the affidavit, and pointing to the fact that although in the court `Summer Showdown` was described as a live news clipping, it has now become a reality show created in-house during March and April 2007.

6th May 2007, the case comes for hearing in Bombay High Court. The counsel for CNN IBN pleads for more time since he has not been able to prepare adequately. Urmi`s counsel opposes the move as only 4 days remain for the first round of 4 weeks of the telecast. The judge agrees to listen to the case on merit.

The case is heard for four hours. Urmi`s counsel puts all facts regarding meetings and submissions on the table and deals with similarities at great length. The counsel for CNN IBN sticks to the single point that ideas are not protected by copyright and Urmi`s idea is just a rehash of `Rajni`, the popular programme of the 1980s, and several present day citizen journalism programmes on TV.

Urmi`s counsel refutes these arguments, concluding his statement by saying that if she does not get a stay order in this matter, then no creative person who approaches a TV channel in order to realise his or her idea will feel safe and protected by the law. The judgment is scheduled for the next day.

7th June 2007, the judge dictates the judgment in his chamber for three hours. He comes to the court and grants the stay order to Urmi Juvekar on the basis of copyright claims and breach of confidentiality. CNN IBN demands a relief of four days. The judge reminds them that their programme cycle gets over on Saturday 9th June in any case, so relief till Monday 11th June seems pointless.

8th June 2007, CNN IBN rushes into appeal but the DIVision bench asks for a copy of the judgment. That still being in preparation, they have to stop there. On Monday 11th June, CNN IBN is expected make an appeal to the bench and we will see how the story spins on.

14 June 2007, The Hoot tried to locate some item related to ?Summer Showdown? on CNN-IBN`s website. The links that were there are now missing. 

In the meanwhile, considering the landmark nature of the judgement and the significance of it for independent film makers, script-writers and the Film Writers` Association, there is not much news of it about,except for the links below.

The simple reason: media refuses to touch the story. In that lies another story, something of a warning to those who have to survive in India Inc.

The full judgement is on the Bombay High Court website: http://bombayhighcourt.nic.in/index.php. Case no. 1467 of 2007.

Relevant links:

DNA story, Reality ?Unplugged?

?CNN-IBN hit with copyright case; court stays show? on Indiantelevision.com

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