The Bombay High Court has quashed the FIR filed against Newslaundry reporter Prateek Goyal by the Sakal Media Group.
The Pune-based group had claimed that Goyal “cunningly” misused its trademark while reporting on layoffs at the company.
The reports in question (see and ) were on Sakal Times carrying out layoffs during last year's lockdown in violation of the Maharashtra government's order saying no employer should terminate their workers, or reduce their wages.
Sakal Media Group took umbrage to the fact that Newslaundry used its logo as article image for both reports. It even called it a "misuse" of its trademark and the group's chief administrative officer Mahendra Pisal subsequently filed a police complaint about it in September.
In its judgement, the high court said the “real question” was whether the two Newslaundry reports fell within the definition of “goods” and “services” as defined in the Trade Marks Act of 1999.
Goyal’s lawyers had argued that the ingredients of the offence under Section 103 of the Act were “totally absent in the present case” and contended that Sakal’s trademark “was not applied by petitioner [Goyal] in relation to any goods and services”, indicating that “there was no question of falsely applying the trademark”.
The petitioner also submitted that Sakal’s logo was used “only to indicate that those specific articles pertained to the Sakal Media Group”. Lastly, Sakal’s Mahendra Pisal had already initiated civil proceedings against Goyal in the form of an injunction suit and “therefore the grievance, if any, of [Pisal] would be addressed before the competent civil court in the said proceedings”.
In response, the high court said: “The articles authored by the petitioner and published in the news portal Newslaundry neither qualify as goods nor as service as defined under Section 2(j) and 2(z) of the aforesaid Act.”
The judgement said: “No doubt the mark shown in the two articles is indeed the ‘trademark’ of Sakal Media Group...but the said mark being shown in the articles cannot be said to be in the context of either ‘goods’ or ‘services’.”
It would have been a “completely different matter” if the articles used Sakal’s trademark to “portray” Newslaundry as the Sakal Media Group, the court pointed out, but instead, “there was no suggestion that the said news portal itself was that of Sakal”. And merely because online searches of the word “Sakal” led to Goyal’s Newslaundry reports “does not mean that the registered trademark of Sakal Media Group was falsely applied to goods or services by the petitioner”.
Now, can an offence be registered against Goyal under Section 103 of the Act? “In order to do so,” the court said, “at least prima facie the ingredients of the offence ought to be demonstrated...In the absence of ingredients of the offence being made out, even on admitting facts, the First Information Report could not have been registered.”
Hence, the court said, “it would be futile to allow further proceedings in such matters”.
The judgement said: “In the case of State of Haryana vs. Bhajanlal 1992 (Suppl.) 1 SCC 395, the hon’ble Supreme Court has laid down that when offence is not made out on a bare reading of the allegations and proceeding on the basis that such allegations are true, the criminal proceedings and First Information Report deserve to be quashed.”
The court also noted that prior to the FIR being filed, Sakal Media Group had sent Goyal a defamation notice of Rs 65 crore and that the suit was still pending.
The Sakal Media Group is owned and run by the politically influential Pawar family. The group’s , according to its website, is chaired by Pratap G Pawar, while his son Abhijit Pawar is the managing director. Pratap Pawar is the brother of Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, whose daughter Supriya Sule is also on the board. Pratap and Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar, is the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra.
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