PM’s photo in Jio ad – is Reliance guilty of unauthorized use of PM’s pic?

This morning saw full page ads by Reliance where they dedicated their Jio 4G offering to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India dream. Full page ads were expected today as RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani had announced the launch of Jio digital services – an ambitious project by Reliance that they have been talking about for some years now – in an annual general meeting of the company yesterday, but the photo of Prime Minister raised curiosity and some eyebrows.

Quite unexpectedly, it was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was among the first one to raise the issue. He got a chance to attack both Modi and Ambani, and he sent a series of tweets and retweets attacking them:

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This was soon picked up by AAP followers and supporters, which included people working as journalists, who expressed outrage that the Prime Minister was “endorsing” product of a private company.

Questions were raised if the Prime Minister Modi had given permission to use his photograph in an ad by a private company. If yes, why was a private company favoured? If not, was it an unauthorized use of PM’s photo by a private company?

OpIndia.com got in touch with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to get a reaction, but the authorities refused to give an official statement claiming the issue was a contrived controversy created by some people and it did not merit an official response.

However, PMO officials confirmed that there was no question of Prime Minister endorsing a particular private company’s products or offering. “It is ridiculous to even think that,” an official said, who didn’t want to be quoted.

“Digital India, Swachch Bharat, Startup India, etc. all are pet dreams of the PM, and all government or private parties are welcome to take the message forward without misleading anyone,” the official added.

So it was a case of someone riding on popularity of another person to push one’s own brand. The same was earlier argued by many others on Twitter too, who tried to reason with the group claiming ‘PM endorses Reliance’ theory.

But is it legal? Can any action be taken against Reliance for using photograph of the Prime Minister in a private ad? Experts believe that Reliance could be safe from any legal action as their deeds may not be in contravention of any copyright laws or advertising guidelines.

“If you see clearly, the ad is not talking about any mobile product or plan, but it says it is a dedication to Prime Minister’s dream. There is no claim of PM endorsing the product. They haven’t even used the Digital India logo in the ad,” Ajita Patki, a Pune based lawyer specializing in Intellectual Property Rights said.

“It is similar to some health drink brand putting up huge poster of an Olympic medal winner congratulating them or dedicating their product to them. If you remember, many companies had used Sachin Tendulkar’s image under garb of giving him a farewell when he announced retirement from test cricket. Tendulkar was not brand ambassador of each of those companies, and I don’t think Tendulkar sued anyone for ‘unauthorized’ use of his image,” she explained.

So it appears that Reliance is practically safe in the latest case. And it’s good news for them given that only a couple of weeks back the government of India had slapped additional penalty of Rs. 2500 crore on them.

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