Times group sued for Rs 100 crore
Times group imitates Zee-Bhaskar's "grey-tape" hoardings
campaign, gets into a legal mess. Express hurries to
catch up, stumbles. Watch the fun as it unfolds in Mumbai
Update: 5 April, 2005: Bennett, Coleman and Co, the publishers of The Times of India, has given an undertaking at the Bombay High Court on Monday to drop its campaign that hijacked the ZEE-Bhaskar advertisements for the combine’s forthcoming English language newspaper in Mumbai.
Therefore, the has court disposed off the suit. However, the
legal case against BCCL for damages will continue.
Ashish Kaul, vice-president, Corporate Brand Development Group, ZEE Telefilms, said,
"The legal case on unconditional apology and our seeking damages worth Rs 100 crore will continue.”
The Business Times today carried a story that gave the
impression that the matter has been decided in favour of BCCL.
It has not been, and the suit was disposed off in the light of
BCCL's undertaking not to use the ads any further. The case
continues. Read below for details.
2 April 2005: Mumbai journalists need not lose heart: if
they thought that the closure of dance bars in their
neighbourhood stole the spice in their lives, here comes
spicier news to make good the "loss." Media giant Times group
is in court on charges of copyright violation. The damages
demanded from Times is Rs 100 crore. (With that much money, I
could start a newspaper on my own!)
For those who came in late, here is the background: After
years of stupor, the Mumbai media market is finally waking up.
Mumbai, almost the exclusive domain of Times India, is
under attack from raiders from the North like Hindustan
Times, and, rumours say, Telegraph from the East.
As if that was not enough, the Zee Group has joined hands with
Dainik Bhaskar to launch an English newspaper.
Unconfirmed reports say that the new daily will be called
In the run-up to launching their newspaper, Zee-Bhaskar has
been running a hoardings campaign in Mumbai, which essentially
included teasers. The hoardings showed faces of people with
their mouths pasted over by grey tape. Below the face was the
tagline: Speak up: It's in your DNA. The message was: Here
comes a newspaper which will stand up for your free speech,
and speak on your behalf. The hoardings stirred up some
curiosity. Great idea. Thumbs-up.
Immediately afterwards, a series of advertisements about
Maharashtra Times appeared in all Times group
publications. The look of the advertisements was almost the
same. The ad showed people peeling grey tapes off their
mouths, with the tagline below: Speak up, it's in your DNA --
Maharashtra Times. The advertisements claimed higher
readership for Maharashtra Times over rival Loksatta.
Its complete similarity with the Zee material, to us, looked
more than sheer coincidence.
Why Maharashtra Times? According to Times, their
local language (Marathi) paper Maharashtra Times has
overtaken its Express counterpart Loksatta. Loksatta
disputes this, as any self-respecting newspaper would. (About
self-respect: you would remember that during last year's
release of Indian Readership Survey figures, some media
organisations had moved court in Jaipur and Delhi against the
release of the report. HT claimed that it still had
more readers than Times. As you can see, all
self-respecting newspapers accept their rival's readership
figures only so far as their own numbers are better.)
Since the Maharashtra Times campaign did not gel with
the Express-Loksatta worldview, something had to be
done. Soon, all Express group publications came out with a
series of speak-up and grey- tape ads. Again, the
advertisements were identical -- faces fiercely pulling off grey
tapes and endorsing Loksatta. The campaign ran across
all Indian Express group publications, including Express,
Loksatta and Financial Express, across all their
national editions. Mumbai's tabloid newspaper Mid-Day,
which is 10% owned by Indian Express, too carried the
same series of ads.
However, Express, in its eagerness to run past Loksatta
and Zee-Bhaskar, stumbled and fell. How? There were two sets
of ads prepared by Express, one set of ads in Marathi, (for
publication in Loksatta) and the other set in English
(for publication in Express and Financial Express).
As it happened, the Marathi ads appeared in Express and
Financial Express in Mumbai. Outstation editions,
however, published the correct English ad.
Someone in Express obviously got egg on his/her face.
The next day, the English ad was carried again in Mumbai
editions of Express and FE. We can understand
However, the battle of grey tapes was not over yet. Diligent
Media Corporation, the joint venture formed by Zee and
Dainik Bhaskar for their upcoming newspaper filed a suit
against Times for stealing their original idea.
Diligent Media charged "infringement of copyright, Passing of
Action and resorting to unfair business practice with a view
to derive unfair business advantage, with malicious intention
The case came up for hearing on Friday, April 2 before Justice
DG Karnik. The Bennett Coleman (who owns Times group
publications) counsel stated that the plaintiff has offered,
in its letter dated March 29, 2005, not to pursue any legal
action against the defendants provided they "tender an
unconditional apology for their ad campaign". He sought time
upto Monday, April 4, to consider this offer.
The court directed Times Group not to issue any further
advertisements of similar or same nature or resembling the ad
campaign of plaintiff. The matter will be heard on Monday,
Speaking to a website, Ashish Kaul, Vice-President at Essel
Group said: "The hoardings were part of a teaser campaign in
which the main draw is the curiosity factor. TOI tried to
hijack the curiosity factor by using it to their advantage in
their own ad. It certainly was disappointing to see such a
large group of repute indulging in unfair practices and above
all their agency gleefully admitting that they cheated our
campaign. This was unethical on their part."
Bet Times to fight a battle before giving up. Saturday
readers of Times of India in Mumbai were baffled by a
fat 4-column story in Business Times titled Unborn
paper claims copyright breach for unclaimed ad. The report,
without giving any details, tried to make light of the "hijack
suit," citing "maturing media campaigns" and "fun and humour
The Times "report", almost 500-words long, quoted
Maharashtra Times Editor Bharat Kumar Raut and
vice-president (brand) Ranjeet Kate all through the story. The
story projected the Times view of things, without
giving any versions from Diligent or Loksatta, all of
which are now enmeshed in the sticky grey tape. Interestingly,
the Maharashtra Times publisher spoke about his
"freedom of speech" and "freedom of commercial speech", citing
Sections 19 1 (a) and (b) of the Constitution. Click here to read
related report on the tragedy of Mediaah, which too
believed a little too much in the freedom of speech. The
Times report quoting only its own management served to
underline the old dictum that the freedom of press is limited
to the man who owns one. Forget grey tapes and speaking up.
That is the story so far. Let's wait and see how the court
rules in the case. The Times publishers can easily
apologise and save the fight for Rs 100 crore. Or it can get
down to a dirty battle which can go on and on. We believe the
Times has little time to go into battle now, even as it is
gearing up to launch a new "serious paper" for Mumbai and
bracing for attack from the North.
The most hilarious thing about media free speech is
its near-complete absence when media talks about itself. Given
a choice, our press barons would clam up and talk nothing
about their own institutions. And when news comes out, it
almost always for self-defence and self-promotion.
Sample International Herald Tribune in India defending
its publication here, Times of India promoting
Filmfare awards and HT-Times battle of wits in
Delhi. Reader's interests always takes a back seat. How many
times have you seen headlines like "Times starting
Chennai edition", "HT says it will open Mumbai account
in May", "Express says it wont buy more in Mid-Day,"
etc? Never. Ever seen a proper media review column in
Express, Times, Mid-Day? Never. Media mavens believe that
news on the media is their preserve, which they condescend to
dispense, at their own leisure.