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Is BigBasket a big bully?

Based in the humble lands of Coimbatore, a local grocery start-up by the name DailyBasket found itself in a legal battle against the online grocery giant BigBasket. A cease-and-desist letter was sent by BigBasket to the young start-up, seeking closure of its operations as it offers identical products and services through a clashing domain name.

While trademark and brand name battles are commonly occurring in a competitive market, what’s curious in this case is the defence mechanism adopted by the DailyBasket. It has launched a website bbisabully.com, on which it has made the cease-and-desist letter available for public scrutiny. Through their website, they aim to project how BigBasket is trying to eliminate them with corporate bullying. One of the most obvious challenges of venturing into independent business undertakings is legal disputes, especially pertaining to trademark and branding having common design elements. However, these disputes are best dealt with in a court of law. But, the DailyBasket chose the road not taken and maintains that their website is an attempt to fight their bully in public!

The politics of public shaming works by creating a storm of outrage that kills a brand slowly, with every click. In 2013, a Mumbai resident, Dhaval Valia received a legal notice for defamation by Vodafone when he ranted about their poor service on his Facebook account. The public was quick to sympathize with Valia, declaring Vodaphone to be an evil bully. Recently, Zomato found itself in a crossfire of public rage due to a heated rift between one of their customers and the delivery boy. Some have threatened to abandon Zomato’s services citing security concerns, while others threaten it to restore the delivery boy in question to full employment and prove their trustworthiness and humanity as a brand.

Public shaming and cruelty are not new, however technologically advanced shaming is amplified and permanently accessible. The Daily Basket through its website aims to harness the power of this constant rage in the virtual world to win a battle, that is purely legal. Even if BigBasket secures a favourable outcome to their cease-and-desist letter, there is no guarantee they will enjoy the same goodwill in the market.

Public shaming and media trials are peas of the same pod. These two trends have given rise to the mania of flash activism. Justice Sirki, at the first Law Association for Asia and Pacific, pointed out that, judging in the current digital scenario is ‘under stress.’ As soon as an issue is raised people start discussing what the outcome should be and that has a significant impact on how a judge decides a case. In the present case of the DailyBasket versus BigBasket, the public has been deliberately invited to pick apart the notice and evidence, treading into the dangerous territory of public ‘investigation’ and trial without the restrictions of judicial standards of inquiry, examination, and principles of justice.

In a situation like this of a brand infringement, the test applied by the courts is the likelihood of the consumer’s confusion. In this case, it is upon BigBasket to substantiate their claims. If BigBasket succeeds in its actions, the Daily Basket shall not only have a lost trademark battle in its pocket, but also a rather expensive charge of defamation up their alley. Therefore, the exhaustive list of dissimilarities and explanations offered by the DailyBasket in its specially curated website against the grocery giant should have been saved for the court of law to deliberate upon instead of the public. It’s the law that grants us the remedy, and the public, only sympathies!

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