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SC stays contempt proceedings against Netflix in HC for showing 'Wild Karnataka' documentary

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Wild Karnataka

New Delhi: In a relief to Netflix, the Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the contempt proceedings initiated by the Karnataka High Court against the OTT platform for showing documentary -- 'Wild Karnataka'-- despite a judicial order restraining its streaming.

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A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices JB Pardiwala and Satish Chandra Sharma took note of the submissions of the Indian arm of the “over-the-top” (OTT) platform and asked the high court not to proceed with the contempt proceedings against it for the time being.

Earlier, the high court had framed civil contempt charges against various broadcasters including BBC, Discovery and Netflix in a case where the filmmakers and broadcasters were accused of disobeying a 2021 interim order of the court regarding the release and telecast of the documentary.

"How can Netflix be held for contempt? The footage was immediately removed. The Karnataka High Court has so many important matters. Why pursue a contempt case against Netflix?” the CJI orally observed while staying the contempt proceedings against the OTT giant.

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The case pertained to an interim order passed by the high court on June 29, 2021 on the plea of Ravindra N Redkar and Ullash Kumar.

It prohibited the filmmakers and platforms involved from engaging in any use, publication, reproduction, broadcasting, telecasting, marketing, selling, or dealing with the film and its raw footage obtained from the forest department.

As per the details of the case, Mudskipper Labs and ITV Studios Global had approached Kalyan Varma and Amoghavarsha to film a documentary in 2014.

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After signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) to shoot a documentary, the accused allegedly used the services of the KFD like transport and shooting permissions without paying any charges.

It was alleged in the high court that necessary permission for waiving the fees was not obtained.

The MoU vested the copyrights of the documentary and raw footage with the KFD but the filmmakers brought Icon Films of England and Wales on board without the former's knowledge, the plea before the high court said.

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The companies then entered into agreements with BBC, Discovery and Netflix to broadcast them though the KFD had specified the film would not be commercially used. The film was also released in theatres.

The original footage shot was 400 hours and the KFD had copyright over all the raw footage, the petitioners/complainants claimed.

The HC passed an interim order on June 29, 2021 on the petition forbidding all the respondents from publishing or telecasting the film.

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However, the film was released in theatres and telecast on broadcaster platforms. The complainants then filed the contempt petition before the HC. The original petition is still pending before the high court.

On January 17, the respondents submitted they are willing to pay compensation to the KFD.

The BBC offered Rs 3.5 lakh as compensation and Netflix Rs 4.5 lakh.

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Icon Films and Discovery also offered Rs 3.5 lakh each to the Tiger Conservation Foundation. The filmmakers and other accused also promised to pay compensation.

The high court, however, had agreed with the advocate of the petitioners that the "apology appears to be sham in the light of the compensation offered by the accused," and went ahead with the framing of charges.

The hearing in the high court has been adjourned until February 8.

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