When old friends turn foes, the battle not only becomes bitter but also tends to cross most professional boundaries. This is what is happening in the case of Ravish Naresh (Cofounder Khatabook) and Suumit Shah (Cofounder Dukaan), who are battling it out publicly to claim ownership of the ‘Dukaan’ app.
On September 25, the Karnataka High Court, adjudicating on the dispute between Khatabook and Dukaan, gave the following order:
“Respondents [Dukaan] are restrained from infringing the first petitioner’s [Khatabook] copyright over the source code/code base of the application ‘Dukaan’ and running, operating and managing the ‘Dukaan’ application on any and all online platforms including but not limited to Google Play store till next date of hearing.”
According to Shah, the spirit of the court order was intended for the removal of Dukaan’s mobile app from the Play Store and not any content around it.
This may have seemed evident from the usage of the word “application” in the order, one might think.
However, Khatabook, and some legal experts that we spoke to, had other interpretations for it. More on that later in the story.
The latest development in the ongoing tussle between Khatabook and Dukaan, close to 300 videos on Dukaan with around 4.5 Mn views have been removed from YouTube on the basis of a Karnataka High Court order, which, according to Shah, is being misused by his rivals for removing videos made by individual YouTubers and Dukaan itself.
Inc42 could not independently verify the claim made by Shah about the number of videos that were taken down.
It turns out that Khatabook has been, according to Shah, using the court order for taking down the YouTube videos related to Shah’s Dukaan.
Shah further added that Khatabook is using the services of Bengaluru-based reputation management and business intelligence company, Aiplex Software Private Limited, to take down the videos.
Aiplex’s claim to fame is flagging down pirated or illegal content on social media platforms on behalf of its clients, and getting them removed on priority for their clients. Recently, AiPlex was accused of pressuring social media platforms like LinkedIn and YouTube to take down negative comments and posts against edtech giant BYJU’S.
Following the court order, the Dukaan app, which was launched by Shah’s Growthpond Technologies, had to be removed from Google’s Play Store and all other online platforms.
While the court order clearly mentions that the Dukaan app had to be removed from all online platforms and app stores, there’s no clear indication on the videos or the other content related to the Dukaan app.
A YouTuber, who had uploaded a tutorial on how to use the Dukaan app, on August 3 this year, has claimed that he did not receive any warning before the video was taken down on October 23. Youtube had sent an email to the content creator, highlighting that the video was taken down due to the copyright takedown notice they had received from “Aiplex Software Private Limited”.
According to Shah, AiPlex is ensuring that a large number of Dukaan related videos on social media platforms, especially YouTube, are taken down. He further claims that even before the court order, a number of videos related to Dukaan were removed from YouTube under the claim of copyright infringement, but the frequency has increased ever since the Karnataka high court ordered the removal of its app from Google Play store and other digital platforms.
Khatabook denied to comment on the report, while AiPlex in its response said “ We would like to inform you that we have shared all collated data with Mr. Jayanth [person related to Khatabook] in relation to the Dukaan app.”
Shah is of the view that AiPlex, on behalf of Khatabook, has been using the Karnataka high court’s infringement order to get content related to their app removed from YouTube, even though the order is limited to the ‘takedown’ of the app.
“We respect the court order and have done 100% things to comply with the court order. But now what Khatabook is doing through Aiplex is taking down all the content (especially videos) from the internet which had mentioned the original Dukaan by sending false copyright takedown notices. The allegations made by them in the copyright takedown notices are false, vague and baseless and amount to groundless threats to us and also to plenty of YouTubers who spent hours and hours of time to create detailed videos of Dukaan app. I am surprised how the YouTube team can even process such fake notices,” Shah said.
Commenting on the issue, Siddharth Mahajan, partner at Athena Legal, highlighted that the court has ordered an interim restraint, which implies that court has found merit in the claim that the app infringes copyright. Although the same has to be finally established.
“So the company must have written to Youtube, saying that this video is based on an infringing product, so any promotion of that product will also promote infringement,” Mahajan said.
Besides this, AiPlex had also written to Growthpond Technology Private Limited & Risemetrics Inc (Rankz.inc)’s founder Shah, on October 21, asking him to remove any “illegal” APK files or content showcasing Khatabook’s product. “This is severely affecting their brand name of ADJ [Khatabook] and is resulting in the loss of their online reputation and revenues, as well as resulting in illegal or nefarious applications that capture user’s personal information,” reads the notice by Aiplex to Shah’s company.
In its response to the notice, Shah’s team denied the claims made by AiPlex and highlighted that they are not facilitating any illegal downloads of alleged nefarious applications.
“We have asked the Aiplex team to withdraw this fake copyright takedown notice, if they don’t comply with it within 5 days from the date of notice, we will not hesitate in initiating any and all proceedings against them as available under law,” Shah added.
But Can the Videos Be Restored?
Commenting on the same, Mahajan, adds that since the takedown notice was based on an interim order issued by the Karnataka high court, if the final verdict is different from the interim order or the court makes any modifications to the interim order in the future. After this, Youtube will have to restore the video at the request of the content creator.
YouTube’s copyright infringement policy gives only two strikes on copyright infringement on the video platform. The first strike is more of a warning, but in the second strike, the account owner is banned from uploading videos and sharing content for a couple of weeks.
On strike three, the channel is permanently deleted. YouTube also allows YouTubers to file a counter-strike, which in this case has been dismissed for several Youtubers due to court orders. Mahajan has also noted that Youtube can refuse to remove these videos as there is no direct order of the court, but the language of the order is such that it questions the product itself.
Dukaan Vs Khatabook: A Spiral Of Blame
Earlier in August 2020, Growthpond had dragged Khatabook to the court for plagiarising its entire platform and trademark violation for its app ‘Dukaan by Khatabook’. The logos, description and functionalities of the apps bordered on being identical. In our previous report, Khatabook’s $300 Mn SMB Empire In Plagiarism & Trademark Violation Trouble?, we highlighted that even the colour palette of the UI and the layout of the two apps had an uncanny resemblance.
At that time, Khatabook had dismissed Growthpond’s claims as false and baseless, but later, the company revealed that it had outsourced the development of the “Dukaan” app to Growthpond Technologies Private Limited & Risemetrics Inc (Rankz.inc) which is the parent company of Dukaan.
“Post-development and on the premise of testing it, the outsourced team Growthpond Technology Private Limited & Risemetrics Inc (Rankz.in) published the app on Playstore, using Khatabook’s proprietary data, in what we see as a clear case of intellectual property theft,” Khatabook claimed.
While the case was still in court, Khatabook filed a copyright infringement against Dukaan in Karnataka high court and the app was removed. You can also go through our report, Khatabook-Dukaan Brawl Over Plagiarism Gets Messier, But Who’s To Blame?.
And in the middle of this, Dukaan raised $6 Mn seed funding from Matrix Partners India and Lightspeed India Partners. Nearly 13 marquee angel investors also participated in this round, including Khatabook investors Jupiter’s Jitendra Gupta and CRED’s Kunal Shah.
[With inputs from Neeraj Thakur]