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Honda film ad: Gurugram-based events company files plagiarism case against Japanese advertisement giant

Hakuhudo admits in Delhi court that it did share Gravity’s work with two agencies -- without either informing or compensating Gravity. Gravity says it amounts to admission of guilt. Court orders Hakuhodo to proceed with the film on giving an undertaking that they would not be using Gravity’s work.
Nov 12, 2020 / 05:20 PM IST

On August 11, Gravity Entertainment filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Hakuhodo Group, one of Asia Pacific’s reputed creative agencies, for allegedly plagiarising what they claim was an idea originally borne out of their studios for Honda, a global two-wheeler automobile company.

Hakuhudo then admitted in a court in Saket, Delhi, that it did share Gravity’s work with two agencies -- without either informing or compensating Gravity.

The court, in an interim order, on August 26, has asked Hakuhodo to proceed with the film on giving an undertaking that they would not be using Gravity’s work.

Gravity Entertainment is a Gurugram-based events company, and Hakuhudo, a Tokyo-based Japanese advertising and public relations company.

The Hakuhodo-Gravity fight

Hakuhodo and Gravity had entered into an understanding and collaborated on a pitch under the condition that if and when the pitch is won, the business would be handed over to Gravity for execution. However, once the pitch was won, Gravity was terminated from the project altogether.

“We cannot keep allowing this to happen. It’s a small industry, ideas are our only currency. We have to call the bullies out. It is unacceptable and someone has to start the fight,” says Suvi Chawla, Gravity co-founder and CEO.

Gravity claimed the campaign used by Hakuhudo was done by using the Gravity storyboard. The undertaking by Hakuhudo itself is an admission of guilt of having breached copyright by sharing it with a third party for commercial use without Gravity’s permission.

Hakuhodo argued in the court that the storyboard was not Gravity’s original piece of work.

But the judge disagreed with their contention and made a clear observation that Gravity’s work was “created by applying creativity and using their mind”. The judge further said he felt that, prima facie, there is originality in the work submitted by Gravity to Hakuhodo for Honda.

Moneycontrol has seen a copy of the court order. Hakuhudo and Honda did not respond to queries from Moneycontrol.

Interestingly, Hakuhudo has filed a defamation case against Gravity for highlighting the alleged case of plagiarism in a trade journal. A couple of hearings got cancelled because of technical issues.

The Ogilvy issue

The big fight over plagiarism started last year when Ogilvy India sued smartphone maker Vivo and creative agency Dentsu Impact. Ogilvy India alleged that a film for Vivo V17, starring Bollywood star Aamir Khan, inspired by a storyboard around the theme ‘Amusement Park’, was its idea.

Ogilvy alleged that Vivo copied the idea and implemented it through Dentsu Impact.

A spokesperson for Dentsu told Moneycontrol that similarity of ideas does not amount to infringement. “We are an agency of brilliant creative talent,” the spokesperson said. Vivo India called the allegations baseless.

But a judge in a Bombay High Court deemed the scripts “similar”. The judge  ordered Vivo Mobile to deposit Rs 1 crore or furnish a guarantee from a reputed bank if it wished to continue to air the ad.

Plagiarism widespread

“The pitching process is abused too much in India,” says Virat Tandon, Group CEO of MullenLowe Lintas. Tandon said if the work is patented or trademarked, you can take legal action but not many agencies work on patent and IP.

But now, thanks to social media, copyright violations are increasingly coming to light. Market analysts say the issue of copyright and blatant lifting of ideas is commonplace in the Indian ad market, worth Rs 70,000 crore, where international agencies collaborate with boutique agencies on numerous pitches.

On many occasions, after the pitch is won, the smaller agencies are told their pitches were not up to the mark and are dropped.

“Stealing has been on for decades, you are noticing it only now, because you have the internet and word flies around. It is the shark eating the small fish. Bigger agencies often use the original creatives of the smaller agencies and then drop it like a hot potato,” says advertising veteran Sandip Goyal.

The former head of Rediffusion and Dentsu said countless such instances have gone unnoticed.

What is the way out?

Some experts feel there should be strong rules against such copyright violations. “If this is not done, ideas will continue to be stolen. I often feel agencies should sue for 15-20 percent of the total spend behind such campaigns. Tough penalties will bring in a great change,” Pranesh Mishra, chairman and MD, Brandscapes Worldwide, said.

Ambi Parameswaran, veteran advertising expert, feels if agencies get a pitch fee for the massive effort that goes into their ideation, one can resolve such contentious issues.

“Stealing should stop, especially at a time when the markets are really low. Smaller agencies routinely work with big agencies which get 10-12 briefs per week, and, in most cases, the smaller agencies see their work stolen. Sometimes, big brands steal the pitches. This needs to stop,” says Parameswaran.

(Shantanu Guha Ray is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.)
Shantanu Guha Ray
first published: Nov 12, 2020 05:20 pm

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