Court verdict on Pubilis book reaffirms power of intellectual property rights | Sunday Observer

Court verdict on Pubilis book reaffirms power of intellectual property rights

18 June, 2023
Fans and Mt Lavinia Hotel’s chefs congratulate Pubilis after the Court verdict
Fans and Mt Lavinia Hotel’s chefs congratulate Pubilis after the Court verdict

Publis Silva is well-known as the leading chef of the Mt. Lavinia Hotel. He pioneered “Hela Style” cooking in star class hotels. There was a lot of talk about Publis last week in many media after receiving a Supreme Court decision as the intellectual owner of his own book.

The name of this book, which featured in a historic judgment is ‘Cooking in the Hela style of Publis Silva of Mt. Lavinia Hotel’. In addition to recipes, this book also includes information about the life of Publis Silva. Publis has written about himself in the book as follows.

“My village is Rathgama, Gammeddegoda in Southern Sri Lanka. My full name is Thommadura Publis. The story of my life since my birth in 1937, is not a mouth-watering one like the food cooked under my command. In short, it was not a bed of roses, but a rough ride full of thorns.”

In this section, Publis mentioned 13 jobs, one of which was attaching letters to a printing press. During the time Publis was in Batticaloa, coconut extraction was main task. In the book, Publis recalls how he came to work at the world famous Mt. Lavinia Hotel.

“When I arrived at the hotel, my first duty was to bring charcoal for the kitchen oven and light the stove with that charcoal. Although there was a gas stove at that time, we had to use a coal stove. The coal was loaded in a cart from the coal shed outside the hotel. I come to work at five in the morning, and go to draw coal with another.”

Recently, we went to Mt. Lavinia Hotel in search of Publis, the “face” of the hotel. “I came to this hotel in 1956. At that time, the foreigners did not eat our food because there was too much chilie. I was the one who reduced the chilie and practised our Hela Bojun so that the foreigners could also enjoy it. “I am eighty-seven now.”

I posed him a question. “Did Dharma Samaranayake, who wrote the notes in this book, get any money for that?” “Yes, I paid money for these.”

Publis says that it was his opinion that these recipes published in the newspapers should be adapted into a language style that is necessary for a book. “The language style of the paper is different. Sarasavi publishers paid Rs. 25,000 to compile them into a book. I did not think that this book would go this far. The question of Ms. Dharma came in the 15th edition.”

The price of the book was Rs.750. “When the court banned the sale of books, there were 800 books. I bought them all and distributed them among schools”.

When Dharma Samaranayake was cross-examined in this trial, she said that Publis had no writing style. She has told the publisher that since she gave the manuscript of this book in her handwriting, this book is her intellectual property. In the cross-examination, Dharma answered as follows.

Q: Who wrote the entire book?

A: I did. He dictated and I wrote in the book style.

Q: That is the role of the editor?

A: No answer was given. (Page 683 of the brief)

One of the questions we heard from Publis was how many times he appeared in Court for this case. “When Dharma filed this case, Sarasavi Publishers Chief H.D. Premasiri took care of all that so that I did not have to come to the Court even for a single day. Finally, I was told yesterday that we have won the case. H.D. Premasiri is a very good gentleman in that regard.”

In this book, Dharma Samaranayake has first written an editor’s note. According to this, the text of this book has been serialised in the Tharunee newspaper of Lake House. Dharma has written about it as follows.

“As soon as I became the editor-in-chief of the Tharunee newspaper in the last quarter of 1996, I wanted to convey to our readers chef Publis Silva’s thoughts not only on food and drink, but about everything related to the kitchen such as greens, leaves, flowers, tubers and so on that grow in our country. On this initiative, first of all I would like to express my gratitude to Chef Publis Silva, who is the real owner of this book. Then I would like to express my thanks to all those who supported him during the journey that brought from the kitchen of Mt. Lavinia Hotel to its boardroom.

“The next challenge that came to us was how to publish this book in print form. I submitted this requirement to H.D. Premasiri of Sarasavi Publishers. He, without any hesitation took on the task of publishing the book.”

Quoted above is a note written by Dharma Samaranayake in this controversial book.

When he went to find Premasiri, he was reading the judgment in his office. “Dharma did several books with us. Dharma also came to the last AGM of the Publishing Association. Dharma translated Tin Tin’s book series.”

“Then was it Dharma or Publis who brought this book to be published?,” I inquired. “Both found me. Initially, our agency paid Dharma Rs 25,000 as an editing fee. The agreement for the publication of the book was signed with Publis Silva. The book was printed fifteen times with 2,000 copies at each run.

“This is a historic court decision. It can be seen from this court decision that it is important to establish the intellectual rights of the work in book publishing. One more fact has been confirmed by this historical judgment. When many books are published, some writers complain that it has been copied or published on the basis of their work. This judgment will be a historical proof that the truth can prevail by taking legal action against it rather than complaining about it.”

Previously, the Commercial High Court of Colombo in a verdict delivered in 2013 has recognised Dharma Samaranayake as the author and intellectual property owner of this book and also imposed an interim injunction on the sale of the book. Sarasavi Publishers sought relief from the Supreme Court against this decision and after a lengthy trial, the Supreme Court on May 17 quashed the verdict of the Commercial High Court, in effect recognising Publis Silva as the rightful intellectual property rights holder of the book. Dharma Samaranayake was ordered to pay Rs.25,000 as legal costs to Sarasavi Publishers.

This judgment is believed to be a landmark decision regarding intellectual property rights in Sri Lanka and a victory for authors whose works are often claimed by others.