Why Did Shark Tank India Send a Legal Notice to This Startup?

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Shark Tank India

In the winter of 2021, as the country was shrugging off the aftereffects of COVID-19, television screens, social media platforms, and everyday conversations were abuzz with a surprising and highly popular topic: Shark Tank India

This show arrived like a fresh breeze, marking a sharp departure from dance reality shows or TV serials overusing the same old tropes and storylines. 

Its format, style, and content perfectly aligned with the aspirations of many Indians, for whom the allure of building businesses and entrepreneurship was no less mesmerizing than the dreams of an atmanirbhar nation. 

The show has made jargon like ‘equity,’ ‘valuation,’ ‘scale-up,’ ‘venture capital,’ ‘bootstrapping and ‘ROI (Return on Investment) rather mainstream. 

Regardless of what deals new companies and startups achieve with the Sharks, the show undoubtedly gives them a much-needed element of brand-building: public exposure. 

These companies also get the scope to market themselves better using their appearance on the show or by banners of “As seen on Shark Tank India.”

But in business, as well as in reality, hardly anything ever goes as planned. 

And Comes the Twist in the Shark Tank India Tale…

[Source: The Indian Express]

Recently, a tea company named Dorje Teas, which appeared in the show’s second season, received a legal notice from Shark Tank India for using snippets of their pitch on their social media accounts.

Dorje Teas is a subscription-based tea startup that wants to bring the finest Darjeeling brews into Indian homes. They had also achieved the dream—reeling in investments worth a whopping Rs. 30 lakhs from Sharks Anupam Mittal, Peyush Bansal, and Vineeta Singh for a 15% equity. Their episode premiered on 22nd June 2023.

However, this shining moment in the Shark Tank India spotlight, which should have been the company’s ultimate marketing triumph, soon found itself mired in controversy.

What happened exactly?

Sparsh Agarwal, co-Founder of Dorje Teas, states in his LinkedIn post that Sony Pictures Networks India issued a copyright strike against the startup for using Shark Tank India clips in YouTube and Meta advertisements.

The post also included a selfie video of Agarwal, in which he was seen asking a fundamental question:

“We’re spending lakhs to boost Shark Tank content, giving them free publicity. How will we build a ‘new India’ this way?”

He further pointed out that besides his company, Sony Pictures has issued notices to several others.

Agarwal further expressed: 

“While I understand the copyright laws supporting it, I don’t understand why they would do this. After all Dorje Teas, and other companies like Skippi, Assembly, Perfora, Hoovu Fresh, Beyond Snack, Wakao Foods, Nasher Miles and so many others, are spending lacs every month to boost Shark Tank content, thereby giving free publicity and brand recall to the SHARK TANK INDIA brand!”

[Source: Sparsh Agarwal’s LinkedIn post]

So, What is the Impact?

The legal notices have affected several startups like Hoora and others, leading to the suspension of Meta ad accounts, which in turn is impacting the visibility and growth of their businesses. 

Yashwant Budhwani, Co-founder and CEO of Hoora Technologies, says:

“Our Meta ad account has been disabled, and it’s very much affecting our business” 

This has sparked a debate on the balance between protecting copyright interests and supporting the entrepreneurial community.

[Source: Mohit Goel’s LinkedIn Post]

According to a screenshot from a WhatsApp group, 18 startups who are Shark Tank alumni, the broader startup community, and the public have expressed concerns that such legal actions might discourage entrepreneurs from participating in the show, fearing potential legal complications and the impact on their businesses.

Many from the startup ecosystem supported Agarwal’s stand, and Sony’s heavy-handed measures were criticized. Some questioned whether Shark Tank India genuinely intended to support the startups or just wanted to get the attention.

They also stated that Shark Tank India’s response to legal notices, along with removing content that used its clips, deviated from the ethos of its American counterpart.

But Every Story Has Two Sides…

On the other hand, some argued that Sony’s actions could have resulted from fears about abuse of intellectual property rights, negative brand-enhancing, and losing control over the show’s format.

It is true that Sony Pictures Networks India‘s legal action is rooted in protecting their intellectual property rights. 

Under Indian copyright law, the producer’s rights are protected, and the producer has exclusive rights over the content. This legal framework ensures that any promotion or advertising is done, only within the legal boundaries established by the content creator.

Swapna Sundar, Senior Partner at PVS Giridhar Associates Law Chambers, shared her perspective on this. She mentioned that startups wishing to leverage the content must either obtain a license from Sony or provide a backlink to Sony’s platform or YouTube channel showcasing their pitch.

She further explained,

“Sony Pictures Networks India is the producer of the show; they, therefore, own the entire episode. The producer is the author of the work under Section 17 of the Copyright Act. When the producer has paid for the production of the film (cinematograph work), they are the first owner,” 

Shark Tank India directly mentions that the participants may use the images or videos shown on the programs on their social media platforms but with some restrictions. For example, they have to add labels like “As Seen on Shark Tank India.”

The advisory from Sony also says: 

“We request you to refrain from using Shark Tank India, Sony LIV, Sony Entertainment Television logo, pictures, font, and videos on your website or social media. Doing so would constitute copyright infringement. The pictures and videos shared by our teams can be uploaded on your social media only.”

Searching for the Middle Ground

As the debate rages on this topic, both media house producers and Shark Tank India’s participating startups must find common ground. The solution must be mutually beneficial, fostering growth while respecting established legal boundaries. 

As the nation continues its journey toward becoming an entrepreneurial powerhouse, incidents like these serve as reminders that a strong foundation of ethical practices and mutual respect must underpin growth and progress. 

By addressing this challenge head-on, the entrepreneurial ecosystem can emerge more assertive, more resilient, and better prepared to deal with the complexities of the contemporary business landscape.

Because, after all, startups, Sharks and the consumers are all in this together.