Coca-Cola Threatens Top Indian Photographer with Lawsuit

London (July 12, 2005): The Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a subsidiary of the Atlanta based Coca-Cola company, has threatened Mr. Sharad Haksar, one of India’s celebrated photographers, with a lawsuit.

Mr. Haksar, a leading international photographer and winner of the 2005 Cannes Silver Lion, has placed a large billboard in one of Chennai’s busiest areas – one of India’s largest cities – with his own “work (which) is solely an expression of creativity.”

The billboard features the ubiquitous red Coca-Cola wall painting, commonly found across India. Directly preceding the Coca-Cola ad, and part of the billboard, is a dry water hand-pump, with empty vessels waiting to be filled up with water – a common scene in India, particularly in Chennai. […]

MY TAKE: A truth is a truth. So what if it hurts?

PS: Greetings from Germany! I return to India on 2 August. More later…



  1. Coca Cola seems to get more evil by the day. It’s not enough that they are working to privatize water supplies the world over (ever read the book Blue Gold?), but now they want to stop people even from bringing that fact to the world’s attention.

    I’m done with their products. I’ve tried to avoid their wares in the past, but I’ve been somewhat lax about it because they already make so many things and own so many subsidiaries. I’m going to be stricter with myself, though.

    You know, it’s a funny thing about companies like Coca Cola… they take away vital resources from the poor and then whine when people come to hate their corporation and engage them violently. That whining has the ear of the American government, so if some group of people in India were to organize and strike violently against Coca Cola (say by blowing up their interests in South Asia) in order to regain access to the life-sustaining resource that Coca Cola took away from them in the first place and so they can no longer afford to have, the American government would label such people “terrorists” and probably help go after them… because they were doing damage to American interests overseas.

    But it’s OK if Coca Cola kills people by denying them access to water. That’s not a crime, that’s a global free market. That’s just capitalism.

    1. How is it Coca Cola’s fault if the goverment of Tamil Nadu sells them the right to control all these vital resources?? Attack the morons we are electing as our leaders. Its they who are selling OUR RESOURCES!! these companies are not stealling them, they are paying for it.

      Capitalism is what is bringing in money to this country and everything in this world has its pros and cons. We cant enjoy it when it suits us and then blame capitalism if we dont like the adverse effect.

      1. Your government has no right to sell the water. It’s not theirs to sell. If people didn’t give Coca Cola the money to buy your water, they wouldn’t buy it, and it isn’t theirs to own. Capitalism is fine in its measure, but not when people lose access to what is necessary to survive.

        We cant enjoy it when it suits us and then blame capitalism if we dont like the adverse effect.

        But you can put limits on what is bought and sold, just like all laws set limits on freedoms and rights. You have the right to sell something that belongs to you, but not in such a way that it does harm to others. A private corporation buying up the water and then restricting who can have it and who cannot, with the result being sickness and death, is not capitalism. It is corporate totalitarianism. It is exactly the same use of capital, in fact, that Mussolini promoted under the banner of his 1932 Fascist agenda for Italy.

        1. Oh! dont get me wrong, i’m not saying coca cola or any other company has the right to buy or sell vital resources. I’m quite against the way most companies breeze into India with the idea that labour is cheap and the governments and law makers are easy to bribe. But in India the government is the bigger evil!! If not coca cola the government would have sold these to some other company.

          The way i see it is that our government itself holds the citizens to ransome, so we Indians cant place all the blame on a company that has come in to primarialy make money! What i’m trying to say is when India’s very own goverment does not respect its citizens rights, we indians cant expect outsiders to respect us. I’m not justifying their tactics just explaining how it is.

          And with the issue of the photographer using the brand name, i’m pretty damn sure he doesnt care about the SOCIAL MESSAGE and is more important in publicizing his work. The reason i say this is the very prominent little red box with his name on it. So i basically see nothing wrong in Coca Cola suing him for using their logo.

  2. Well name Coca Cola is a trademark of a Company, and no can go about using it for their personal gain without permission. Whoever this photographer guy is cannot steal (yes! that is what he has done, irrespedtive of the supposed social message) what is lawfully another’s possesion to publicize his own products.

    If this guy really cared about getting social messages across, target the goverments and political parties also. They are more responsible for Chennai not getting water.

    Look into yourself and ask yourself honestly, if you had an opportunity to make money, will you think of the ordinary man and walk away? This is business and one needs to focus on making money and not charity.

    For all the people who blame capatalism, about 90% of them get their earning from these very result of capatalism!!

    1. Welcome to inhumanity.

      When does human life become more valuable than money? Does it ever? If not, how high would you set the price tag on a life? And if there’s a price tag on a life, if someone is willing to pay me a lot of money to sneak into your house at night to kill your family, am I not justified in doing so?

      That’s what Coca Cola is doing. This is not “capitalism.” This is “corporatism,” where the right of a corporation to earn unlimited sums of money outweighs the rights of people to survive. If you want to see how far this can go, take a look at Eritrea under Italian occupation in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

      1. When does human life become more valuable than money? Does it ever? If not, how high would you set the price tag on a life? And if there’s a price tag on a life, if someone is willing to pay me a lot of money to sneak into your house at night to kill your family, am I not justified in doing so?

        It never ever does!!! but that doesnt stop us humans does it?? Look at Afghanistan and Iraq!! what do u think the USofA is doing? they see these countries are weak so go in strike and take over ALL of their resources, kill their people and sell their stuff back to them and then go around thumping their chests. Coca cola and all other companies from the west are just aping their darn governments. So Corporatism and capitalism overlap each other in a lot of areas.

      2. Err, human life has value? Since when?

        Reality check: a human life has value to another only when that other is able to extract that value in some way.

        If a poor farmer in Tamil Nadu is dying because Coca Cola has taken away his water, well then, too bad. His life had no value anyway. But: if he’s able to make a hue and cry and/or persuade his government to return him his water (even as indirect effect), then that is his value, and he should use it effectively.

        This of course has nothing to do with Sharad Haksar having illegally used Coca Cola’s logo. As far as I can tell, he’s not protected by fair use rights.

        1. What you have just stated is the utter essence of Fascism… a human life has value only when it has value to the state.

          It apparently means nothing to you that a poor farmer might have children that depend on him, which means that his life has value, whether it has an impact on the government, or on my life, or on yours. When someone takes it upon themselves to say that the value of a life is measured by its value to some faceless state, then they have devalued all human life.

          What if the state doesn’t listen? Is the value of that poor farmer’s life then measured by the amount of terror he can instill against an unresponsive government? And if he cannot combat the government directly, is it then suitable for that poor farmer to blow up the office buildings in which the government workers work? If you are a government worker, is it then alright with you if he does that?

          What you have here is nothing less than a recipe for totalitarianism and terror. I don’t think it’s me who need the reality check.

          The photographer used the Coca Cola logo as a part of social commentary. In a society where freedom of speech outweighs the right of a corporation to extract money from the population on pain of death, he has every right to use the logo in that way. He was not advertising a product using another company’s logo, nor even charging others to view his work. He is using the logo, in fact, as part of an attempt to “make a hue and cry and/or persuade” people to turn against the selling off of a resource that wasn’t someone’s property to buy or sell in the first place. In a democracy, natural resources are protected in a public trust by the government, precisely because they belong to all of the people. The government had no right to sell the resource, and Coca Cola had no right to buy it nor to restrict access to it.

          1. Dear Sir,

            Thousands of people across the world die every day for various causes, natural or otherwise. Do I care? Should I care? Would my life make any progress at all if I spent all my time worrying about all the dying people?

            We live in an attention economy. If that poor farmer can’t persuade someone to take notice of his plight (and it doesn’t have to be done by blowing up buildings — exercising a vote in a democracy is significant enough), then he effectively doesn’t exist. I’m sorry, but whether you want to call this Fascism or whatever else, this is how the world works.

            As for Sharad Haksar, whatever social message he’s trying to get out, and whether the government has any right to sell public resources, is completely unrelated to the fact that he’s violating trademark law. He may not be morally wrong, but he’s legally wrong.

          2. I see… so your justification is basically that you’re too self-centered to care about the suffering of others. Excellent.

            You know why thousands of people suffer and die needlessly every day while others make themselves rich at their expense?


            Go look in the mirror.

            You are, indeed, a Fascist. That puts you in proud company. Give yourself a big pat on the back. People of your ilk have a long history of which to be proud.

            Haskar does have the right to publically use the Coca Cola trademark in the way in which he has done. Coca Cola is simply bringing a lawsuit to crush dissent against it… to eliminate the “hue and cry” that you think is the meaning and value of life. They don’t have to win such a suit; they simply have to use their tremendous resources to outspend him into silence.

            You are not only a Fascist, but you are a remarkably naive Fascist.

            The system as it stands is NOTHING like democracy, because money carries more weight than votes. Money controls the dissemination of political messages and of all information that forms the basis of making decisions in a democracy. Your poor farmer has no chance of exerting the kind of influence that a corporation like Coca Cola exerts.

            Remarkably, incredibly naive. I don’t think you have the first clue about the way the world works.

          3. This is why I dislike getting into debates. They are a waste of time. I hope you’re feeling very good about how smart you are.

          4. I feel good that I have a heart.

            And as far as your argument about Haksar’s photograph…

            Who sued Andy Warhol?

          5. If that poor farmer can’t persuade someone to take notice of his plight (and it doesn’t have to be done by blowing up buildings — exercising a vote in a democracy is significant enough), then he effectively doesn’t exist.

          6. I meant to ask, “you don’t mean that, do you?”

          7. I meant to say, effectively doesn’t exist to me. Do you want to be subjected to the daily updates of six billion people? I’m not denying they exist, just that I don’t want to know what they’re all doing.

          8. Hmmm…Ok.

        2. This of course has nothing to do with Sharad Haksar having illegally used Coca Cola’s logo. As far as I can tell, he’s not protected by fair use rights.

          Is that an actual photo that has been shot or is it a painting….how can anybody tell ? If such a scene exists and if it was shot, is it not protected by fair use rights ?

          1. Fair use rights cover private use and review. That makes it legal for a magazine to publish an excerpt for a rating, but in this case, putting up the image on a hoarding with no explanation beyond the photographer’s name makes it a case of advertising, which is most certainly not protected.

            In the US an advertisement is allowed to use a competitor’s name, but not logo and imagery. It’s supposed to be to encourage fairness. I’m not sure India allows even that, let alone riding on a logo that has no connection to your line of work.

            But I’m no trademark and copyright lawyer.

          2. Here I am, replying to a thread more than a month and a half later! Anyway, hopefully now I’ll be able to return to my blogs.

            In my understanding, the photographer captured this candid scene (the water pump lined with buckets with the Coke logo as the backdrop). It was a scene asking to be captured, and pretty creative a photo too.

            Now unless Coca Cola says that the photo was staged (which is very difficult to prove in court), we have been, I am sure, used to such scenes around us… And as a photographer (even the amateur in me!) everyone is looking around for such snaps that portray/depict the irony of life…

            The point in question is the hoarding put up by Haksar. Again, while it may amount to an advertisement, it may also amount to an artist’s expression of creativity… The same way that a painting is put up for display.

            It can be looked on as an open air photo exhibition, as it is just that. This argument would surely hold water in a court of law, as this can be equated to displaying this photo in a Photo Exhibition.

            The only difference here is that the photographer has made it a free entry / public exhibition, and changed the medium of print from photopaper to a hoarding. But it remains a photo printed on a hoarding. No additional mixing or photoshop-ing.

            Then again, I am no corporate lawyer!


  3. this picture reminded me of a coca cola ad where a man sleeps on the pavement on a hot afternoon in the shade of coca cola crates… if they cud use our poverty in an ad for ourselves thn i see no reason to have a prob with this pic..

    1. Agreed. And many more. Many appear in the Black Book of Photography too! And are lauded as creative expressions.

      I guess Coke just wanted to get some publicity mileage out of this. In the world of corporate communication and PR, the mantra remains: “Publicity good or bad is good publicity”.

      Btw, Haksar in his website now proclaims:
      The pictures in this website are solely an expression of art, creativity and skill. The intension is not to demean, derogate or defame any person or thing. Any allusion to this effect is wholly unintentional. Some pictures may carry a logo that belongs to others. However, there is no intention to claim any right, copyright or benefit from the same. This work is solely an expression of creativity.

      Wonder what was the court verdict… IF the matter ever went to court that is. After all, Haksar is the photographer used by Coke in its print campaigns… 🙂


      1. The final word… ?

        Hi people,

        Just received a mail from Haksar saying that the issue was settled amicably and out of court.

        Guess that explains the disclaimer on the website…


      2. btw another publicity tactic coke is using is it claims to have started a water harvesting project in tn. and now its publicisng it… so totally agree with you on that one .. ke publicity good or bad is publicity after all..

        i just found out tht the coke ad with crates and a man sleepin on the pavement had won an abbe award…

  4. Hey Pishe,

    What are you doing in Germany?

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