Cola Behind Empty Pots? Coke Thirsts for a Fight
- No Water, No Problem?
Mumbai: Even as trouble brews over the supply of water to
the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada in Kerala, leading to allegations
that it is creating severe water shortage in the area, the multinational
has slapped a notice on an Indian photographer for using the Coke
logo in the background of a photograph depicting water scarcity.
The company has asked Sharad Haksar, a Chennai-based photographer,
well-known in advertising circles, to remove the giant billboard in
Chennai on which the photograph appears and make an unconditional
apology or face a legal suit and a damages claim of over Rs 20 lakh
The billboard, at Nungambakkam High Road next to the Taj Coromandel
Hotel, shows a dry hand pump with four pots lined up next to it by
the roadside. The backdrop to this is a wall, with “Drink Coca Cola”
in white on a red background.
Speaking from Chennai, Haksar said he has not withdrawn the billboard.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson in Mumbai said the July 11 notice was served
because it was an “infringement of our trademark”. But he added that
the company respected Haksar’s creative freedom as an artist and was
in talks with him.
Haksar, who is associated with Coke as a photographer — he just shot
a campaign with Tamil actor Vikram — has refused to apologise or withdraw
He said he was also “talking to Coke”, but stressed that his photograph
did not impinge on Coke’s copyright in any way.
“What is depicted in my picture is a very common sight in Chennai,
where the photograph was taken. I did not want to make any point against
a particular company. It could have been Pepsi or Fanta and still
my photograph would hold. I wanted to show the irony of the situation
— when there is such acute water shortage, aerated drinks are freely
He said to ensure no one takes offence, he had clearly put a disclaimer
on the hoarding.
Coke’s notice has been sent by the law firm Daniel & Gladys, who represent
Coca-Cola’s Indian subsidiary, citing “incalculable” damage to the
goodwill and reputation of the brand Coca-Cola. It states that the
disclaimer is “depicted in an insignificant place of the hoarding
which is not even legible/visible”.
It adds: “My clients suspect a foul play that your action is malicious
and also a deliberate attempt to bring disrepute to my client’s global
reputation built up by spending millions and millions of rupees and
by its quality of product and service.”
Haksar said Coca-Cola authorities had seen the photograph in his office
before it was blown up on the 20 feet x 30 feet billboard. “If there
was anything objectionable in it, they would have reacted then,” he
He has been putting up a photograph with a social message on the billboard
for three years. The photographer said possibly the controversy in
Plachimada could have prompted Coke’s legal notice.
“There is, though, no mention at all of Plachimada in the five-page
notice they have served me,” he added.
There could be a solution soon, however. “I work with them and I don’t
want this to drag on,” said Haksar. “And I put up a picture for about
a month. I put this one up at the end of June. So it’s almost time
for it to go,” he said.
But the incident has already become a cause celebre. Though the message
of Haksar’s picture may have been different — he insists that it is
a piece of art and a general comment on water scarcity in the country
— the picture has been appropriated by the anti-MNC brigade.
Environment groups and other NGOs like the international organisation,
India Resource Center, have taken it up.
The campaign continues to receive tremendous public support internationally,
claimed the India Resource Center website. “We appreciate Mr Haksar’s
efforts and we condemn Coca-Cola’s attempts to silence a public discourse
on the issues,” said Amit Srivastava of the outfit.
There have been several protests against Coke recently. While in Plachimada,
Coca-Cola has been unable to open its bottling facility for the last
16 months because the local community will not allow it, people in
Gangaikondan, near Chennai, have demonstrated against an upcoming
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.