The ‘Nation wants to know’ Conundrum

Guest Blogger

final image Arnab Goswami, the famed Editor in Chief of Times Now recently quit to start his own venture, Republic TV, under the umbrella of ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd. His excessively loud, yet entertaining show, The Newshour, was frequented with the catch phrase he had popularised; ‘The Nation wants to know’.

After he quit, Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd also known as the Times Group filed for a trademark for two phrases, namely ‘nation wants to know’ and ‘the nation wants to know’, in December 2016.

Not too far behind, ARG Outlier Media Pvt., also applied to register the very same phrases as trademarks and consequently Times Now has served them with a legal notice.

Time to don your legal caps     

The crux of this debate will come down to three issues: –

  • Can Times Group or ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd actually own this phrase?
  • Whether the phrase has become synonymous with Arnab or the Channel (Times Now) that hosted him.
  • And whether Times Now’s employment contract with Arnab sufficiently clogs all loopholes thereby making the phrase a part of their intellectual property.

Can Times Group or ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd own this phrase?

Yes, a phrase can be owned as per section Section 2 (zb) of The Trademarks Act, 1999. For brevity’s sake please read this link for a brief idea.

For either of the parties to register the said phrases as trademarks, they must prove that the phrases are distinctive, used during their trade and is not a customary usage in journalism. It can be argued that the phrase ‘nation wants to know’ is too generic and therefore, not advisable to allow either party to lay claim to it. However, most slogans we know – KFC’s ‘finger lickin good’ and Idea’s ‘An Idea Can Change your life’ consist of words that are of common parlance.

The phrase ‘The Nation Wants To Know’ was obviously developed during the course of trade; it was a common feature of ‘The Newshour’ of Times Now. It is also not a term of customary usage in journalism because it cannot be likened to words like ‘scoop’ and I don’t recall Barkha Dutt ever using this coined phrase. It was exclusively used by Arnab.

Lastly distinctiveness can be proved by demonstrating that the slogan enables the consumer to identify the origin of the goods. In this context, this can be proven by stating that the phrase has acquired distinctiveness through usage; that people have started associating it with the channel or the person. This paves the way for our next issue.

Whether people relate the catch phrase to the Times group or Arnab Goswami?

Personally, I feel this issue will be rather difficult to resolve. In my opinion however, it is likely that Arnab will take the reins on this one. The phrase, which he spouts so emphatically and repeatedly, has become synonymous to his personality as an anchor. Few would actually associate this phrase with the programme or the channel.

Whether or not Times Now’s employment contract covers the phrase thereby making it a part of their intellectual property?

Both parties are neck and neck up until now and it will all boil down to this particular issue.

If Arnab’s employment contract has a clause declaring that all intellectual property created by him as an employee of Times Now belongs to the employer, the mark would ideally be granted to the Times Group. Now this is a standard clause in most employment contracts and the Times Group has already hinted that there is such a clause in all their employee contracts.

But picture abhi baki hai mere dost

Arnab has a silver lining in the form of a personality right.

Personality rights or image rights are rights of a person who has acquired a celebrity status, to restrain others from commercially exploiting his name or image; this is because the celebrity or public figure has become a ‘brand’ per se.

Celebrities build up personalities that add commercial value to their individual’s persona. The personality that they create is their property and they are commercially profited by it. Few Indian celebrities like Rajnikanth, A.R. Rahman and Shahrukh Khan have already registered their name as a trademark.

Interestingly Rajnikanth’s case against Varsha Productions for the movie “Main Hoon Rajnikanth” resulted in a landmark judgment in which the Madras High Court stated “personality right vests on those persons, who have attained the status of celebrity. Infringement of right of publicity requires no proof of falsity, confusion, or deception, especially when the celebrity is identifiable. The right of publicity vests in an individual and he alone is entitled to profit from it”. In this manner, Rajnikanth was successfully able to protect everything; from his name to his mannerisms and his unique style of dialogue delivery.

It cannot be disputed that Arnab is a celebrity. If he can prove that the phrase ‘Nation wants to know’ is associated with his identity and has become synonymous with his personality, he can quite effortlessly trump any attempts by Bennet Coleman and Co to register the mark.

Update

In retaliation to the legal notice served by Times Group, Arnab in a cheeky move, has hoisted a board right outside the TOI’s Hyderabad office bearing the words ‘The Nation Still Wants To Know’ sprawled across it. It will be rather entertaining to see how this pans out.

This article has been authored by Sharanya Menon a law student based out of Pune, India. She is pursuing law at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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