A hoarding put up in Chennai by ad photographer Sharad Haksar has attracted the attention of Coca-Cola’s lawyers. The hoarding, located at Nungambakkan High Road next to the Taj Coramandel Hotel, shows a dry hand pump with four pots lined up next to it by the roadside. The backdrop to this is a wall, with ‘Drink Coca Cola’ in white on a red background.
While the company’s lawyers have in their communication have sought a damage of Rs 2 million citing copyright infringement under Section 63 of the Copyright Act, Haksar says the hoarding is ‘solely an expression of creativity’ and has refused to tender an apology as sought by Coca-Cola’s lawyers.
The communication, sent by Daniel & Gladys, advocates, IPR, who name Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd as their clients, cites “incalculable damage to the goodwill and reputation” of brand Coca-Cola. Legal action has been threatened if Haksar doesn’t remove the hoarding ‘unconditionally and immediately’ and also provide an ‘unconditional apology in writing’.
In a written statement, Haksar said, “I am very surprised by the reaction of Coca-Cola. The hoarding does not demean, derogate or defame any person. It is just a creative piece of work. There is neither falsity nor intention to defame. I don’t see how this can hurt any one. In fact, to ensure no one takes offence, I had clearly put a disclaimer on the hoarding.”
The legal communication, however, states that the disclaimer is “depicted in an insignificant place of the hoarding which is not even legible/visible”. It also mentions, “My clients suspect a foul play that your action is malicious and also a deliberate attempt
to bring disrepute to my client’s global reputation built up by spending millions and millions of rupees and by its quality of product and service”.
Besides mentioning ‘defamation’, it adds, “You have done it deliberately and wantonly to satisfy others with a dishonest intention and improper motive.”
Sharad adds, “Senior Coke officials who have visited my office had seen the picture even before it was put on the hoarding. They didn’t raise any objection. Now they have issued me a legal notice. I am indeed zapped. I have been in the advertising industry for nearly 15 years now. I have built the reputation of many big brands through my images. I even did a shoot for Coke three months back. I would never do anything to hurt any brand, leave alone Coke. I would have expected Coke to take it sportingly. Instead they’ve chosen to issue a legal notice.”
The legal communication ends with: “If you fail to comply, my clients will be constrained to initiate civil and criminal action against you.” Sharad’s response reads, “I have no intentions of issuing any apology, because I have not committed anything wrong. If Coke pursues this legal course, my lawyers shall take appropriate counteraction.”
Coca-Cola officials were unavailable for comment on Sunday. The soft drinks major’s spokespersons when contacted said that they would be able to comment only on Monday.