Has Times Group scored a self-goal by accusing Arnab Goswami of ‘theft’

It is no longer a secret that Times Group is unhappy that Arnab Goswami left them to start his own channel Republic TV, which now competes with their own offering Times Now. Arnab had hinted many a times that it was an acrimonious exit with him not being allowed to access ‘his own’ news studio during his last days at Times Now. But now that war is out in open.

Arnab has been served a slew of legal notices by the Times Group in recent times accusing him of defamation and another notice asking him not to use the phrase ‘the nation wants to know’ – popularized by Arnab during his Times Now debates – as the phrase supposedly belonged to Times Group, not Arnab.

Now this war has taken an ugly turn with Times Group filing a ‘criminal case’ against Arnab Goswami, a Republic TV journalist named Prema Sridevi, and against Republic TV itself, accusing them of ‘theft’ and infringement of copyright & intellectual property rights.

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Recently Arnab Goswami and Republic TV had aired certain ‘tapes’ in relation to the Sunanda Tharoor’s suspected murder. The recorded tapes were telephonic conversations between Prema Sridevi, when she was reporter with Times Now, and the late Sunanda Pushkar and her personal assistant Narayan.

Another recording of conversation between RJD chief Lalu Yadav and mafia don Shahabuddin was also aired on Republic TV on the day it launched. Times Group now is claiming that all these tapes are their intellectual properties.

The main argument of Times Group appears that since Arnab and Prema were their employees when they obtained these tapes or recordings of the telephonic conversations, these tapes are ‘intellectual property’ of Times Group i.e. they own a copyright over the tapes and Republic TV couldn’t have used it without proper authorization or license from Times Group.

The intellectual property rights (IPR) are bestowed so as to promote public interest. The basic principle for according “Protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights” is that it must:

  1. be conducive to social and economic welfare;
  2. safeguard an individual’s fundamental rights; and
  3. promote commerce, competition and innovation.

In Copyright “Laws exceptions and limitations” are provisions, which in public interest permit the use of copyrighted works without prior authorization or a license from its owner.

Further reading of the Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 provides for certain acts, which would NOT constitute an infringement of copyright, namely, fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work not being a computer program for the purposes of:

  • criticism or review,
  • reporting current events in any print media or
  • reproduction for the purpose of a judicial proceeding or of a report of a judicial proceeding;

It should be noted that usually media employment contracts stipulate that any original or creative work produced during the employment period by an employee becomes the IPR of the employer, so Times Group could claim IPR (assuming that Arnab and Prema’s employment contracts had such clauses) over the tapes. However, use of the tapes on Republic TV clearly falls in the first two of the above categories, and thus it should qualify for fair use and not be seen as copyright or IPR infringement. Most probably a court of law is going to take the same position.

The only case, though debatable, Times Group could claim here is if they accuse Arnab and Prema of never sharing these tapes with them while they were employees, which could be argued as breach of contractual duties expected from an employee. However, that will be difficult to prove in a court of law. In fact, it makes no sense why Arnab or Prema would not share such a scoop that happened more than two years ago when there was no plan to launch Republic TV.

Further, if I am allowed some creative interpretation, Arnab had said something on air, which suggests that perhaps these tapes were in the knowledge of some high-profile people but were not aired as Shashi Tharoor called up someone who can pull the strings:

The possibility that these tapes were with Times Group but they didn’t air actually can result in huge self-goal. Republic TV has claimed that Delhi Police would be treating these tapes as evidence. In such a scenario, whoever stopped airing these tapes earlier could be accused of withholding an important piece of evidence.


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