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The Times Group–Arnab fight over copyright violation

MUMBAI: After the battle over the phrase ‘The Nation Wants to Know’, Times Group and its famous former employee and now the founder-editor of Republic TV are again on a warpath.

Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd (BCCL), the parent company of Times Group, has filed a criminal complaint against Arnab Goswami and his Republic TV colleague Prema Sridevi, who was earlier with Times Now, with Mumbai Police for copyright violation.

The media conglomerate, which owns the popular English news channel Times Now, lodged a complaint against the duo on 16 May for theft, criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of property and infringement of IPR of BCCL by using the same on Republic TV.

In its complaint, BCCL has alleged that Goswami’s Republic TV had used audio recordings in two exposés on 6 and 8 May which are owned by the company.

The two exposés pertain to the Sunanda Pushkar murder case, which was aired on 8 May on Republic TV, and telephonic conversations between Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and his party colleague and mafia don Shahabuddin, who is currently lodged in Tihar Jail on charges of murder, on 6 May.

BCCL contended that both these exposés displayed material in the form of audio tapes of phone conversations which Goswami and Prema procured and accessed while they were employed by Times Now.

“An internal inquiry has clearly pointed out that these tapes were procured and in the possession of Mr Goswami and Ms Prema Sridevi while they were in the service of BCCL,” the company has alleged.

The company claimed that Goswami and Prema admitted on Republic TV that the audio conversation in the Sunanda Pushkar case aired on 8 May had been in their possession for the last two years when they were with Times Now.

BCCL said that it owns intellectual assets in the form of stories, audio-video content, documents and tapes gathered by its team of reporters and journalists during its newsgathering and broadcasting operations.

Republic TV had on 6 May, the day of its launch, carried an exposé on Lalu Prasad Yadav in which audio tapes containing phone conversations allegedly between the ex-chief minister of Bihar and Shahabuddin while he was still in prison were played out.

In the Sunanda Pushkar murder case exposé, the channel had aired audio tapes of phone conversations between Prema Sridevi and the Late Sunanda Pushkar (wife of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor) and their house help Narayan.

“Mr Goswami and Ms Sridevi have wilfully, deliberately and with knowledge converted for their benefit and used the aforesaid intellectual property of Times Now and thereby dishonestly misappropriated the said intellectual property, thereby committing the offence of criminal misappropriation of property punishable U/Sec.403 of I.P.C. and several other provisions under applicable laws,” BCCL said in its complaint.

Reacting to BCCL’s move, Republic TV founder and editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami said that the media group is rattled by his newly launched channel’s success.

“There is panic, desperation and hysteria in The Times of India Group because they are unable to come to terms with the fact that, despite all the money and all the underhand tactics, they are about to lose the news battle to a group of new-age and passionate journalists. They should show some grace in defeat and collect themselves,” Goswami said.

Even though the ratings for Week 19 have yet to become public, Goswami declared that Republic TV would emerge as the top English news channel going by the traction it had received on digital.

“If they have [Times Now] lost, it’s because their content is not up to the mark. If they have lost, it’s because the viewers have rejected them. Why the viewers have rejected them is something they should analyse. This is a David vs Goliath fight and Goliath has lost,” he added further.

On the specific charges of copyright infringement, Goswami had this to say, “That is absolute rubbish. As a reporter, we have every right to follow every story and every leak. For the last two years and more, the Sunanda Pushkar murder case has not been followed up and we have put these tapes in the public domain so that the case does not die. It is our responsibility as journalists to put out the truth in the public domain, which is what we have done.”

Without getting into the specifics of the case, he said that journalists have every right to report and release information they have gathered.

“Reporters follow stories and we have the right to release information if we see the truth doesn’t happen. Prema Sridevi has said that all the information has been put out before the police in the sense that she has done a video testimony before the police, but if the police don’t act even after two years, is it wrong to go out and give the information and raise more questions? We have been following these stories for the longest time,” he noted.

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