Phi Learning vs. Dr. P Meenakshi: 2011 (47) PTC 548 (Del)

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

INTRODUCTION:

This case analysis of Phi learning Ltd vs. Dr. P Meenakshi discusses copyright law under copyright Act 1957 and explains the concept of publishing agreement between the author and the publisher. This analysis will spread light on the issue of the relationship between a publisher and an author. It will talk about the exclusive rights that the publisher has on the work of the author after the signing of the publishing agreement. 

FACTS:

In this case, the plaintiff is the publisher company; Phi Learning Ltd and the defendant is the author; Dr. P Meenakshi. Here, the plaintiff is the publisher who has a business of printing and publishing books and the publisher enters into an agreement with the defendant who is the author of the book “Elements of Environmental Science and Engineering” on 1st December 2004. This agreement is called a Book Publishing Agreement which is a legally binding agreement between an author of a book and a publisher that specifies all the terms of their agreement to publish the book, such as the payment to be made, the timeline to follow, etc. This agreement ensures that the interests of both the author and publisher are protected and that the agreement is honoured. According to the agreement, the publisher has exclusive rights to publish, reprint and sell the book during the full term of copyright and according to clause 3 of the agreement; the author was entitled to get 15% of the net receipts in India on all the copies sold by the publisher as royalty. Royalty is a mode of payment which refers to the amount of money paid to the author for each unit of the book that the publisher sells. On 11th May 2009, the author informed the publisher that she wants to give the publication rights to a third party because they are making multiple printouts of the book without paying her the money as royalty. But the publisher doesn’t agree with the view of the author and therefore, a suit for permanent injunction is filed by the plaintiff. 

ISSUES:

In this analysis, the main issues involved are:

  1. Whether the author of the book has the right to give the publication rights to a third party
  2. Whether the author can cancel the publishing agreement in this situation. 

ARGUMENTS FROM BOTH THE SIDES:

According to the plaintiff, as per the book publishing agreement dated on 1st December 2004, the plaintiff has exclusive rights to publish, reprint and sell the book written by the defendant titled “Elements of Environmental Science and Engineering.” The author has herself consented and given these exclusive rights to the publisher. As per the plaintiff, the publisher has been paying the payment to the author as royalty in July every year along with the annual report of the sale and nothing has been due till 31st March 2009 and even after filing the permanent injunction suit, the author has still been receiving the royalty from the plaintiff.  As far as the suit for permanent injunction is concerned, there has not been any breach of the agreement regarding the plaintiff’s side as the publisher company has spent a huge amount of money and used considerable manpower for promoting the book written by the author in various places. Therefore, the permanent injunction to not allow the author to leave the agreement and enter into any agreement with a third party will be economically and morally justified. These were the arguments in favor of the plaintiff. There are no arguments in favor of the defendant because no advocate argued in favor of the defendant and the defendant herself was not presented in any of the proceedings. 

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SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

In the High Court of Delhi, Hon’ble Justice Mr. V.K. Jain gave the decision in favor of the plaintiff on 10th August 2011. In the judgment, as per the agreement between both the parties, the copyright in the book “Elements of Environmental Science and Engineering” includes the right to publish, reprint and sell the book which has been assigned to the plaintiff by the defendant. Therefore, the defendant does not have the right to assign these rights to a third party provided she is paid the whole of the royalty. It was proved that the plaintiff has been paying royalty to the defendant and no evidence was presented before the court to show that the accusations by the defendant are true and that the plaintiff has misused its faith and has given false details of the annual report to the defendant. Therefore, after looking into all the evidence, the court passed a decree for permanent injunction with cost which would not allow the defendant to assign the copyright of the aforesaid book to any third party during subsistence of the agreement dated 1st December 2004 provided that the plaintiff continues to pay royalty to the defendant.  

ANALYSIS:

One may say that this case was decided correctly. This case is a suit for permanent injunction. In this case, the defendant, who is the author accused the plaintiff that is the publisher company that it has been making multiple copies of her book without paying royalty to her which is why she wants to give the publication rights to a third party but the plaintiff refuted the claims and they had valid reasons for the same. As per the facts stated, the defendant entered into an agreement with the plaintiff on 1st December 2004 and through this agreement the plaintiff was granted exclusive rights to publish, reprint and sell the book of the author and in return the author is paid royalty as payment on all the copies sold by the publisher. As per the allegation made by the defendant that the plaintiff has been making multiple copies of her book and has not been paying her royalty for the same, the plaintiff has evidence that an email was sent by the defendant on 11th May 2009 claiming that the royalty was not paid and in response to the mail, the plaintiff had sent an email attaching all the proof of royalty payment that was made. The plaintiff has already sold 5500 copies so far and records were shown which proves that the royalty was paid to the defendant for all these years and nothing has been due till 31st March 2009.  

Another email was sent on 1st July 2009 where the defendant informed the plaintiff that she had already given the publication rights to a third party. This is strictly a breach of contract. Due to this, the plaintiff filed for a suit for permanent injunction wherein the plaintiff wants that the defendant is not allowed to enter into any agreement and give any publication or distribution rights for the aforesaid book. It also wants that the defendant does not have any copyright in the aforesaid book. In this case, the defendant’s accusations are proved false as the defendant herself was not presented in the proceedings which means that there was no advocate who argued in favor of the defendant. Also, as the defendant was not present, therefore the case was conducted via ex parte. 

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The defendant also accused that the plaintiff has misused its faith but there has been no evidence to prove that and the plaintiff has also submitted the annual sales report. Also there is no evidence to prove the report false. Therefore, the judgment is correct where the defendant has been restrained to give publication and distribution rights to any third party including the fact that she will be paid royalty regularly by the plaintiff. 

CONCLUSION:

Through this case, it has been proved that the innocent people are satisfied and provided justice. It can be seen through this case that the author cannot give the publication rights to a third party when she is already in an agreement with a publisher already. But the copyright of the work will stay with the author only as they have exclusive rights on their work as per section 14 of copyright act. This will be considered as a breach of contract and against the law of copyright. Therefore, in terms of copyright the author and the publisher both have a stable and smoothing relationship and both should respect their rights.


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