Times Group has filed a criminal case against its former employees Arnab Goswami and Prema Sridevi. Arnab, who headed the group’s television channel, quit last year to start his own venture. Several journalists who worked under him, like Prema Sridevi, followed suit. The group’s television channel held pole position in its segment for many years, until Arnab reemerged with Republic TV and blew it out of the park.
Times Group and Arnab have shared an acrimonious relationship for half a year now. It is alleged that he quit the group’s television channel due to differences with the management, and that he wasn’t allowed to enter their studios in his final days there. In the run-up to Republic TV’s launch, Times Group served Arnab several legal notices. They accused him of defaming them, and warned him against using the phrase ‘The nation wants to know.’ This is a phrase which had become synonymous with Arnab, because he used it frequently. Arnab answered back by naming his weekly interview show ‘The Nation Wants Know.’
The criminal case filed against Arnab and Prema though, is of a more serious nature. Republic TV started off with a big bang by putting out certain exclusive pieces of investigative journalism. A series of tapes, primarily the recordings of telephonic conversations, feature as the key elements of their exposes. Some of the tapes are over two years old. The Times Group has alleged that since the tapes were obtained by Arnab and Prema when they worked for the group, the tapes are Times Group’s intellectual property.
Contracts given out by media outlets to their employees usually specify that all the creative work produced during the period of employment are the intellectual property of the employer. It is likely that both Arnab and Prema’s contracts had such a clause, although this cannot be verified at the moment.
If we are to believe that Arnab and Prema did obtain these tapes as employees of Times Group and that the case for theft of intellectual property can be made here, there exist copyright laws which might protect them.
Certain provisions of the copyright laws permit the use of copyrighted works without prior authorization from the owner, especially when it is used in public interest. Whether a court of law will find Republic TV eligible for the aforementioned provisions is anybody’s guess, but legal experts who have commented about the case believe that it will.
Here’s the catch: Times Group publicly attempting to call out Republic TV for the theft of intellectual property might backfire, and might end up hurting Times Group. Among the tapes that Republic TV put out were conversations between Prema Sridevi and some of Shashi Tharoor’s associates. These conversations have radically altered what the investigation agencies knew so far about the death of Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar. Republic TV claims that the Delhi Police will now use these tapes as evidence in their investigation of Sunanda’s death. If this is indeed true, and if Times Group claims these tapes are their intellectual property, it amounts to withholding evidence.
If Times Group had in its possession these tapes which are changing the course of the investigations, why were they not handed to the concerned investigative agencies? If these tapes were obtained by Arnab and Prema as employees of the Times Group much before anybody even conceived of Republic TV, they must have been obtained with the intention of being aired. Why did the Times Group not air them? Who was it in Times Group that let these tapes sit as showpieces? Was there an ulterior motive for not airing them?
Times Group’s criminal case, it is likely, will end up putting them in the dock instead of bringing them any closure. Watch this space.