In today’s digital age, the reach and influence of social media has grown exponentially, making it an essential platform for businesses and individuals alike. This reach, however, comes with its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to the fine line between criticism and disparagement. The recent case of Dabur vs. Dhruv Rathee, adjudicated by the Calcutta High Court, provides a fascinating insight into this delicate balance. In this case review, we shall delve into the facts of the matter, the legal arguments put forth by both parties and the court’s rationale in reaching its decision. This review aims to shed light on the intersection between the protection of trademarks and copyrights, the right to freedom of speech, and the implications of social media influencer content on businesses and their reputation.
Factual and Legal Background:
The petitioner is a prominent manufacturer and distributor of Fast-Moving Consumer Goods under the brand name Dabur. The first respondent is a social media influencer with a YouTube channel titled “Dhruv Rathee” and a substantial number of followers across multiple social media platforms. The petitioner asserts that the contested video published by respondent no. 1 on 14 February 2023, with the intention of criticizing packaged fruit products, makes unfair comparisons between carbonated soft drinks, RTS fruit beverages, and fresh fruit juices. The petitioner further asserts that the challenged video encourages consumers not to consume packaged fruit juices, including those sold under the brand name Real, and makes direct and indirect references to the petitioner’s products, thereby tarnishing the petitioner’s brand reputation.
The issue with respect to Trademark comes into the picture because the challenged video depicts an earlier advertisement aired by the petitioner for its product Real, as well as a distorted image of the petitioner’s product Real. It is the contention of the petitioner that any consumer would recognize that the product depicted in the video is Real. It was also the petitioner’s contention that such unauthorized use of the packaging, label, and logo of the product Real infringes upon the petitioner’s rights under section 29 (9) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999, and the Copyright Act, 1957, and is therefore prohibited.
The Calcutta High Court has determined that the petitioner’s product, Real, was singled out and disparaged in the video. It was opined that the repeated direct and blatant references to Real had crossed a line, despite the fact that the video’s underlying intent is not offensive. As a result, the court ordered that the respondent can be permitted to air, distribute, or upload the video only after removing the infringing references to Real and prohibited the respondent from using the petitioner’s Trademark, copyright content, trade dress, packaging label, and logo. The respondent was directed to carry out the order within seven days.
Hon’ble Justice Ravi Krishan Kapur, while deciding the case, had to find a middle ground between protecting the rights of the consumer to be informed and the rights of any manufacturer’s reputation not to be tarnished. The court, while recognizing the Right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), also acknowledged that such rights are not absolute rights and are subject to restrictions under Article 19(2).
The court also opined that the act of Respondent 1 amounting to the unauthorized use of the packaging, label, and logo of the product Real infringes upon the petitioner’s rights under section 29 (9) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999, and the Copyright Act, 1957, and is therefore prohibited. The court has determined that the petitioner has established a strong prima facie case on the merits and the scales of convenience and irreparable harm tip in support of granting the relief sought by the petition.
Authored by Ipshita Bhattacharyya (Associate, BananaIP Counsels) and Shuchita (Intern)
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