As Sakal Group files FIR against Newslaundry reporter, portal alleges ‘personal vendetta’

Reporter says police came to arrest him, secures anticipatory bail.

Pune-based Sakal Media Group, run by close relatives of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, has filed an FIR against a reporter of Newslaundry, an online media outlet, claiming copyright violation after its logo was used in one of the news reports published by the portal.

Newslaundry, which had reported about employment terminations of employees in Sakal Group in March and April, has alleged “personal vendetta” against the reporter.

Sakal Group publishes an influential Marathi newspaper with the same name from Pune. Its managing director Abhijit Pawar is a nephew of Sharad Pawar, and cousin of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. Sharad Pawar’s brother, Pratap Govindrao Pawar, is “mentor and chairman” of the group. An English newspaper from the group, The Sakal Times, was shut down shortly after the lockdown was imposed in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before filing the FIR, the Sakal Group had served a Rs 65-crore defamation notice on Newslaundry in June for the two news reports. Newslaundry had replied saying the reports were factually correct, and that they included comments from the Sakal Group. Sakal has not pursued the defamation case.

“We have not filed the defamation case, but an FIR for copyright infringement. This is because our registered trademark was used in a story published by Newslaundry without our permission,” Mahendra Pisal, legal department head of Sakal Group, told The Indian Express. He said the FIR, filed on September 16, was only against the reporter, Prateek Goyal, and not against Newslaundry.

“We have not filed the FIR against Newslaundry. The FIR is against the reporter as he used Sakal’s trademark logo in his story. He has stolen the trademark,” said Pisal.

Goyal said police had come to arrest him, but he was not at home at that time. He later managed to secure anticipatory bail from a city court. He claimed that police had threatened to lock him up when he had gone to the police station to complete legal formalities on the bail order.

Senior Police Inspector Dadasaheb Chudappa of Vishrambaug police station, where the FIR has been registered, said, “Sakal approached us with a complaint about misuse of its logo (trademark). Based on it, an offence has been lodged under the Trademark Act. Further investigation is on.”

When asked why an FIR was filed against the reporter, Chudappa said, “The reporter has used the trademark logo in his story and therefore, we have filed a case against him.” Chudappa said his team had gone to Goyal’s residence to arrest him, but he was not at home at that time. He denied that police had said anything objectionable to the reporter.

Goyal, meanwhile, said police have also asked for his laptop. “On November 1 (Sunday), they (police) called me up, asking me to come to the police station with my laptop. But I have demanded a written notice for it, and also demanded that the hash value (a number that represents the entire content inside the laptop, and changes if the content is changed) of my laptop. They have refused to entertain my request and asked me to come to the police station on Wednesday,” he said, adding he would cooperate with the police investigation.

Goyal has been working with Newslaundry for two years. He had earlier worked with Sakal for a year.

Nipun Katyal, lawyer for Newslaundry, told The Indian Express that Sakal Group had also filed a civil suit against Newslaundry, seeking an order restraining the website from publishing those stories further.

“Sakal has filed an FIR against the reporter under Section 103 of the Trademark Act, and a civil suit against six persons of Newslaundry. One is a criminal case, while the other is a civil matter,” he said.

Raman Kirpal, editor-in-chief of Newslaundry, said Sakal Group was acting on “personal vendetta”.

“When we had carried two stories regarding sacking of employees by Sakal Times, they had served a defamation notice to us. We had replied to them, asking them to show any mistakes in the story. We knew the stories were factually correct,” he said.

He said Sakal then filed an FIR against the reporter. “We had used the illustration in the story, which is generally used by the newspaper or online portal to depict a particular institute. It was used only for the sake of news and there was no commercial intention behind it. We are trying to handle the case legally. As of now, it seems to be a case of personal vendetta against the reporter,” said Kirpal.

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