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No One Can Claim Copyright In Scriptures Like Bhagavad Gita Or Bhagavatam: Delhi High Court

The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, India V/s Https://Bhagavatam.In/#Gsc.Tab=0 & Ors. [CS(COMM) 657/2023 and I.A. 18425/2023-18431/2023]

The Delhi High Court ruled that no one can claim copyright in scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita or the Bhagavatam, but any interpretation, adaptation, or theatrical work based on these would be protected by copyright.

The single bench of Justice Prathiba M. Singh has observed that there can be no doubt that the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is one of the most revered ancient scriptures in the world. The Bhagavad Gita along with the other scriptures like Bhagavatam which are written about by the Author are all `public domain’ works. There can be no copyright claimed in the Scriptures. However, any adaptations of the said work including providing explanation, summary, meaning, exegesis/interpretation or creating any audio visual works for eg., television series like Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana or B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata; dramatic works created by drama societies based on scriptures etc., being transformative works, would be entitled to copyright protection – being original works of the Authors themselves. Thus, there can be no objection in the actual reproduction of the text of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita or similarly other spiritual books. However, the manner in which the same is interpreted by different gurus and spiritual teachers being varied in nature, copyright would vest in respect of the original parts of the literary works which preach, teach or explain the scripture.

The Plaintiff, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust is a trust established by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ‘Srila Prabhupada’. The Author was a renowned scholar, philosopher, cultural ambassador, prolific author, religious leader, spiritual teacher, a social critic and is revered by his devotees as a Guru. He is also credited with the establishment of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

The Author spread the message from various Hindu scriptures including from the Shri Bhagavad Gita, in India and in several foreign countries. Publications written by the Author include various lectures and published books which are read by devotees and those who are interested in his teachings, in a large number of languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese and other regional languages, as also foreign languages such as French, German and Russian etc., It is averred that some of the Author’s works have simplified the religious books and scriptures and have made it easy for the common man to understand. The copyright in all the works which have been based on the Authors teachings, writings, lectures and preaching vests with the Plaintiff -Trust.

The plaintiff sought an injunction against four websites, five mobile applications, and four Instagram accounts that posted and disclosed to the public the plaintiff’s intellectual work.

The court ordered ex-parte interim injunction order against the defendants and restrained them from infringing the copyrighted works of the plaintiff.

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