The Delhi High Court decreed the copyright infringement suit in favour of Bhaktivedanta Book Trust India which publishes books related to ISKCON against a website named

The said Trust had filed an application under Order XIIIA of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) seeking summary judgment in its favour and against the aforesaid website.

A Single Bench of Justice Anish Dayal said, “In any event, the decisions adverted to by plaintiff’s counsel are unanimous in their conclusion in relation to similar issues which arose i.e. that rights in works authored by a saint or ascetic can subsist in their name. Even on first principles, as noted above, defendant’s assertion to the contrary, is infirm and untenable and is based upon an amorphous concept, not sanctioned or endorsed by law, of a renunciate automatically deemed as relinquishing all rights in property upon becoming a sanyasi. A copyright vests in a person by virtue of his sweat and toil and therefore, subsists by law, inter alia, per Section 17 of the Copyright Act.”

The Bench added that once the person is the repository of the right recognized by law, it can only extinguish qua him or her by a legal mode.

Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal appeared on behalf of the plaintiff while Advocate Siddharthan appeared on behalf of the defendant.

Brief Facts -

The issue in this case was whether a ‘sanyasi’ (renunciate) is entitled to own copyright in literary works of his creation. The plaintiff Trust was engaged in printing, publishing, and distributing books, writings, and speeches of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada), who is the author/settlor of the Trust. Srila Prabhupada was a philosopher of Vedic literature and he established the ‘International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ (ISKCON). Through his lifetime, he delivered thousands of lectures, wrote innumerable letters and books of his teachings, essentially being translations and explanations of ancient Vedic texts as well as that of the Bhagavad Gita.

The recitals of the trust deed stated that the settlor was entitled to copyright and rights in his writings. Srila Prabhupada passed in 1977 and the trust went on to edit and format his manuscripts, writings, and speeches, and published them as books. These publications achieved huge renown and success across the world and during an anti-piracy sweep carried out in 2020, the plaintiff trust transpired that certain websites, such as that of the defendant, were carrying complete copies of some of its books in which copyright vested in the trust. Hence, the plaintiff filed a suit seeking a decree of permanent injunction restraining defendant from infringing its copyright under Section 14(a) of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The High Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case observed, “The right would stand extinguished in the hands of the renunciate, only if the person transfers or relinquishes the right by a process known to law, and not otherwise. There could be a situation where it may be implied that by subjecting themselves to a monastic order, of which there were rules agreed to and accepted by conduct, oral utterance or writing, that the right and property would be deemed to be transferred in accordance with those rules, but even this hypothetical situation requires evidence to prove that the renunciate had agreed to his property being transferred to a beneficiary in a particular manner or mode. However, in this case, there was a categorical written assignment by Srila Prabhupada in favor of the plaintiff Trust.”

The Court noted that the issue is clearly and cleanly decided against the defendants and in favour of the plaintiff in this case. It further said that in light of the defendant having accepted the injunction and willing to abide by it and the existence of the copyright in Srila Prabhupada of his works, there is no other aspect which remains for adjudication and the defendant has no real prospect of successfully defending the claim.

“There is also no other compelling reason why the claim should not be disposed of before recording oral evidence, especially since the trust deed by which copyright was assigned in favor of plaintiff’s Trust is registered and the defendant does not claim to be either the owner, assignee or licensee of the said right. Moreover, the defendant does not dispute that these works being communicated to the public are authored by Srila Prabhupada”, it concluded.

Accordingly, the High Court allowed the application and decreed the suit in favour of the plaintiff trust.

Cause Title- The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust India v. (Neutral Citation: 2024:DHC:3083)


Plaintiff: Advocates Saikrishna Rajagopal, Himanshu Bagai, Deepshikha Sarkar, and Bhanu.

Defendant: Advocate Siddharthan

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