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Startups on Shark Tank India face legal heat for using demo clips in ads

In a recent crackdown by Sony Pictures Networks India, several startups that appeared on Shark Tank India received legal notices for using clips from their pitches in online advertisements. The development was brought to the public’s attention by Sparsh Agarwal, founder of Dorje Teas, through a post on LinkedIn.

Agarwal emphasized that Sony targeted «every startup» that used snippets of their performances in promotional materials on digital platforms such as websites, YouTube and social media. He pointed out the irony of the situation, noting, «After all, Dorje Teas and other companies like Skippi IcePops, Assembly, Perfora, Hoovu Fresh, Beyond Snacks, Wakao Foods, Nasher Miles and many others spend millions every month to expand Shark Tank content, giving the brand SHARK TANK INDIA free promotion and branding!”

The consequences for these startups have been severe, with many reporting that their social media posts and promotional videos have been flagged for copyright infringement by major platforms like Google and Meta, leading to content removal or account suspensions. Yashwant Budhwani, co-founder and CEO of Hoora Technologies, lamented the disruption this caused, saying, «Our Meta ads account has been disabled and it’s affecting our business a lot.»

Legal experts weigh in on the issue, noting that Sony’s actions are based on Indian copyright laws. Swapna Sundar, Senior Partner at PVS Giridhar Associates Law Chambers explained, “The show is produced by Sony Pictures Networks India; so they own the entire episode. Copyright law protects the rights of the producer and also grants certain rights to the performer, which are typically independent. But the manufacturer has the exclusive right to the integrated content.”

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In response to the backlash, Shark Tank India issued a directive to its aspiring alumni instructing them on the appropriate use of the show’s material. The directive clearly states, “I request you to refrain from using Shark Tank India, Sony LIV, Sony Entertainment Television logo, images, fonts and videos on your website or social media. Doing so would constitute copyright infringement.»

Despite understanding the legal rationale, many in the startup community feel betrayed and believe the move goes against the supportive ethos that Shark Tank India is meant to represent. The mood in the community, as well as the harsh response from affected startups, underscores the growing tension between corporate policy and startup culture, with many questioning Sony’s intent behind the strict measures.

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