Industry paid for IP seminars to train judges

Microsoft and Indian Music Industry funded FICCI to hold roundtable for Maharashtra judiciary; judges handling piracy cases special invitees

By Latha Jishnu
Published: Wednesday 14 September 2011

Leaked documents of correspondence between lobby group FICCI and industry have revealed an unsavoury nexus between the two in funding a roundtable on intellectual property (IP) matters for judges in Maharashtra, many of whom were specially invited because they were hearing cases of IP crimes such as piracy.

According to the emails leaked by an organisation calling itself the Indian IP Leaks Team, FICCI was in regular correspondence with Microsoft Corporation India Ltd and Indian Music Industry (IMI), both litigants in IP cases in courts here, on funding for a judicial roundtable organised by the Maharashtra State Judicial Academy. The event, called the Judges' Round Table on IP Property Rights Adjudication was eventually held in July 2010 after letters went to and from these organisations between September 2009 and March 2010.

Microsoft ultimately agreed to pick up a tab for Rs 8 lakh against the Rs 18 lakh demanded by FICCI. This funding was for travel and accommodation for the participating judicial officers. The funds were apparently routed through their law firm Amarchand Mangaldas. From the mail dated October 26, 2009, it also appears that Amarchand Mangaldas had a role in deciding the agenda for the roundtable. The mails were exchanged between FICCI officials and Ankhi Das, director, public policy—legal and corporate affairs of Microsoft India.

A second set of leaked emails relates to the correspondence between FICCI and IMI for funding the same roundtable, with the latter agreeing to pay Rs 1.75 lakh on several conditions. An email dated 28 October 2009, the music industry group asks for the following:

  • “…insure that as many as possible Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates who are empowered to handle copyright cases are invited…
  • A list of speakers who would be addressing the Judges.
  • Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal to inaugurate this function…
  • A representative from IMI to speak on copyright cases…”

Very discreetly, FICCI said no logos and branding would be used “…keeping in view sensitivity of the programme”.

Das could not be reached for comment despite calls to his mobile number, while a FICCI spokesperson said he would respond to these revelations but did not do so.

Indian IP Leaks Team says in a covering note that such funding “raised concerns about the ability of corporate interests like the pharmaceutical and IT industry, to easily access and influence judges' rulings in IP cases in which they have an interest.” It also sought an investigation into the “questionable role that Indian industry bodies like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), FICCI and law firms play in facilitating such roundtables, conferences or seminars involving the judiciary”.

According to this hitherto unknown group, “the facts revealed by the emails has highlighted the importance of preventing certain corporate interests from having unequal, extraÔÇÉjudicial access to judges outside of the courtroom.”

The controversial issue of sensitising judges to IP issues has been highlighted several times in the Patently Absurd column that appears in Down To Earth.

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