Liquor company to face law suit for using Mahatma Gandhi’s image

Significance of Images and Designs in Brewing Industry

Images and bottle designs play a vital role when it comes to liquor manufacturers as they greatly enhance the distinctiveness of brand. However, there are limitations when it comes to using certain names, images, etc., in particular those linked to National significance. In fact, when it comes to company names, only government-owned establishments can use the word such as “National”. This is even applicable for domain names too.


The case of “Gandhi-bot” trademark

Now, a US-based liquor company, New England Brewing, is facing trouble for capitalizing on Mahatma Gandhi’s reputation by featuring image resembling Mahatma.

The Connecticut-based company went a step further to state that its intention was to pay homage and celebrate the apostle of peace and that Gandhi’s granddaughter and grandson have expressed their admiration for the label, which is truly appalling regardless of its veracity. The beer brand is called “Gandhi-Bot”, which the company says is an intensely hopped double India pale with a blend of three varieties of American Hops.

A Hyderabad-based advocate, Sunkari Janardhan Goud, has filed a petition before XI Metropolitan Magistrate, Hyberabad, contending that Gandhi’s image on the alcohol cans and description of the father of the nation by the brewery is highly condemnable and punishable under Indian laws. The case is listed for hearing on Monday. The advocate stated in her petition that the company’s act amounts to offences under Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, and 124-A of IPC (related to us inflammatory words, signs or visible representation).

The company’s explanation

In response to this, the company stated that Gandhi’s family has in fact seen the label and expressed their admiration and that the true intention behind this is to promote anti-violence principles of Mahatma’s. We find it rather hard to see any rationale behind this.

Mahatma Gandhi’s role in anti-liquor movement

Ironically, Mahatma Gandhi was inspirational to pre- and post-independence anti-liquor movements throughout India. In fact this was one of the strong reasons behind prohibition of liquor in the State of Gujarat, although it was stated to be something envisioned by our Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Branding strategies in tobacco and liquor industry in other countries

Not too long ago we heard about the abuse of “Khadi” trademark by a German company. This time another company has gone a step further and used our beloved Mahatma’s image for its liquor. More recently, the European Union (EU) Trade Commission in consultation with IP organisations came up with suggestions for printing trademark on a plain packet with images depicting ill effects, which has received mixed responses from members of EU.

Ireland was the first state in EU to introduce plain package tobacco laws, a study in Australia has found that they are having the desired effect there. In 2012 Australia became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging laws, with smoking in decline since then. A study by the Cancer Institute of New South Wales shows the rules are achieving their objectives. Eight out of ten smokers say they don’t like the look of their ugly packs of cigarettes.

Need for statutory rules?

Although we have specific laws relating to packaging and certain prohibitions on advertisements of liquor and tobacco products, we wonder whether laws or regulations specific to branding strategies for liquor and tobacco industry is really needed to curb these menaces in the future. This is particularly disheartening to see the identity of a greatest leader being used for promoting liquor when the nation is contemplating on ban of liquor. We will wait and see the fate of the case.