KSRTC MD wants to shut down popular blog; Experts say MD’s arguments hold no ground

Antony Chacko, the Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of the Kerala State Road Transportation Corporation (KSRTC), has written a letter to Sujith Bhakthan, the founder of the website, ksrtcblog.com for “Unauthorised usage of trademark KSRTC”.  The key demands made in the letter are; to refrain from hosting contents derogatory to KSRTC in his website, to remove all the contents in the domain ksrtcblog.com and to refrain from using the mark KSRTC through the said domain or in any other manner.

Sujith Bhakthan, Founder of www.ksrtcblog.com

Sujith started the blog in 2008 to provide information about KSRTC and its services. Since then its growth has been immense. The term ‘Aanavandi’ referring to KSRTC buses has been coined by this blogger. When TP Senkumar IPS was serving as the CMD of the KSRTC, Sujith approached him for permission to enter the KSRTC depots across the State and click pictures.

Sujith vividly remembers the initial days and the struggle to get information and pictures. He says, “There was no information available on KSRTC and the then existing website was pathetic. Senkumar Sir was happy to grant us the permission and told his officers that, we (bloggers) were doing only what they were supposed to do. We sought for the renewal of the permission once and it was denied, we left it there. For the last two years, I have had no contact with the KSRTC officials, except for filing RTI applications.”

It is said in the letter that Sujith is putting advertisements for the benefit of third party competitors of KSRTC through his blog for commercial gain.

“Every website has advertisements. Even the IRCTC website has advertisements. I do not put private advertisements. We have only put Google ads which are totally dependent on the location and the user,” says Sujith.

The CMD in his letter alleges that the contents uploaded in the blog are derogatory to the “best interests of KSRTC” and are done with the intention of maligning the reputation of the KSRTC, create ill faith among the public, and to cause fissures with the organisation.

Sujith explains, “Two years ago, we questioned the qualifications of the then Executive Director – Operations, who was only a matriculate. We filed RTI applications and brought out some interesting data. Then started the problems. As per the present rules, there is no requirement that such senior officials must have qualifications in management. It was decided by the Director Board to appoint only people with required qualifications to such posts and the proposal was sent to the Ministry. But no Ministry has taken a decision on such matters.”

As far as law is concerned, “KSRTC” is not a registered trademark of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation. An application for registering the word mark “KSRTC” has been submitted by the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. A decision on the application is pending as the Kerala State Transport Corporation has raised objections to this demand.

Antony Chacko, CMD of the KSRTC told The Kochi Post, the issue consists of highly technical matters and he cannot comment about it over phone.

The Kochi Post spoke to legal experts in the field of Intellectual Property Law and they unanimously agree to the fact that the contents of the letter hold no ground in the eyes of law.

Dr. Shamnad Basheer, one among the top 50 influential people in Intellectual Property Law across the world and a former winner of the Infosys Science Award says, “Both Kerala and Karnataka lay claim to the trademark KSRTC. And it is not clear as to who will prevail amongst them. Perhaps Courts would permit both of them to continue using the mark as concurrent users. However, in so far as the blog is concerned, given that KSRTC was aware of the blog and even gave permission to take and upload photos of KSRTC buses on the blog several years ago, they cannot now prevent the blog from operating under this mark. They have acquiesced in the use of the mark and are estopped now from claiming otherwise.”

Ananth Padmanabhan, Advocate and author of a treatise on Intellectual Property Law, says, “The very conduct perpetrated by the KSRTC in this case was expressly frowned upon by the Delhi High Court in the seminal case of Tata vs. Greenpeace. There, a computer game developed by Greenpeace, Tata v Turtles, a critique of Tata’s role in the endangerment of Olive Ridley turtles, was found to be a valid denominative use of the Tata brand name for purely criticism and fair use purposes. In the light of this decision, and the constitutional and fundamental right to free speech and expression ingrained in article 19(1)(a), KSRTC’s conduct is unconstitutional and legally impermissible. It has a potentially chilling effect on the free speech rights of citizens.”

Dr. Athira Nair, Director – Centre for IPR Studies, NUALS, Cochin told us, “The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation was aware of the existence of the blog www.ksrtcblog.com, and had given permission to display photos of their buses in the blog. So, as long as the blog only said good things about KSRTC, all was fine. However, that is not the way of life. Things have to evolve with time, otherwise they become redundant. It is apparent from a perusal of the blog that it gives very crucial information to the public regarding information related to bus service in Kerala, which may not be otherwise available. If the blog contains some constructive criticisms, does it mean that they have outlived their usefulness to the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, or the general public?”

Athira adds, “The actual holder of the domain name, www.ksrtc.in, is not the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation but the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation owns 2 domains-www.keralartc.com, and www.ksrtconline.com; surprisingly, no one owns the domain name www.ksrtc.com. So, my question is, how can you tell someone to desist from using something, if you are not even the owner of it?”

The letter from the KSRTC MD can only be seen as an attempt to shut the mouth of the bloggers who are fighting against those making the institution a white elephant. The KSRTC management should focus on saving the institution from losses and turning it into a profitable body, rather than interfering with free speech, a right guaranteed to the public by the Constitution. Sujith is in high spirits and has received support from across the globe. He is well prepared to fight this battle against arbitrariness.

Cover Image from the website, www.ksrtcblog.com

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