Delhi HC refuses to stay release of ‘The White Tiger’ on Netflix

A last-minute plea was put out by American producer John Hart Jr, claiming breach of a literary auction deal.
The White Tiger (2021) | Netflix

On Thursday, the Delhi High Court refused to stay the release of the film The White Tiger on the Netflix streaming website on a petition by American producer John Hart Jr, alleging copyright infringement, PTI said. 
 In an immediate hearing, Justice C Hari Shankar denied the appeal for a stay, arguing that no single justification for moving the court less than 24 hours before the film was released had been demonstrated. However, Netflix and film producer Mukul Deora was summoned by the court. It listed the matter before the Joint Registrar on 22 March for the conclusion of the pleadings.
 A novel of the same name, written by Aravind Adiga, is based on The White Tiger and is scheduled to be released on Netflix on Thursday night. In March 2008, the book was written and Adiga won the Man Booker Award for it. 
 "Advocate Kapil Sankhla, representing Hart Jr, said that in March 2009, a literary auction deal was reached between him and Adiga, under which the producer had to make a book-based "Oscar-worthy film" to be released in Hollywood. In October 2019, however, he became aware that Netflix was in the process of producing and releasing the film, after which he sent Deora and Netflix a legal notice to cease and desist from any such act, PTI said.
 Sankhla also portrayed Sonia Mudbhatkal, who runs a production company based in the United States. The lawyer said that his clients were never given an indication that a film shooting was going on in 2020 and due to the pandemic, all such operations were put on hold abroad. 
 Sankhla tried to stay the release of the film by arguing that these were infringements of copyright. He said that since the movie is to be released on an Over The Top website, and not in theatres, it would not give the defendants any significant financial repercussions.
 Meanwhile, Senior Advocate Sandeep Sethi, defending Deora, opposed the appeal, observing that the cause of action itself occurred in October 2019, but at the last moment before publication, the plaintiffs approached the court, which was not allowable. He also alleged that Hart Jr had hidden from the court numerous related documents and put a one-sided narrative in place. 
 Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal, representing Netflix, argued that the release of the OTT film requires immense financial capital and goodwill.
 The court held that if the publication of the film was stalled at this point, it would cause severe and irreparable repercussions for the defendants and that it could not arrive at a prima facie opinion that copyright had been infringed. It allowed the film to be released by Deora and Netflix but asked them to hold comprehensive accounts so that the court could decide the monetary compensation if copyright infringement was confirmed at a later stage.
 He said that when a number of parties are participating in the process, even though the release is online, there will be significant implications. His submission was agreed upon by the court. 
 Senior lawyer Sai Rajagopal, appearing for Netflix, told the court that the movie was already released in the US on January 11, 2021, and no objection was raised by the plaintiffs. He also claimed that only after one of the victims, Mudbhatkal, had reached an agreement with them did the producers go ahead. 
 The court took umbrage at Hart Jr.'s concealment of documents and turned down the appeal for his release to be stalled.