JioMeet: Original Work or Colourable Imitation?
‘Go Digital’, a phrase that today, is almost germane to businesses has been transformed into a juggernaut by the name of Jio Platforms. The wholly owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd., India’s behemoth group of industries, has become the face of digital India. In 2019, Reliance Jio along with the company’s various digital ventures were clubbed under one ‘Jio Platforms’. Since then Jio has added a myriad of products and services under its banner, centered around 4G services, home broadband, entertainment, social connectivity, news and utility.
With the world reeling with Covid-19, the demand for operator services has spiked, thereby offering fecund opportunities for Jio Platforms to announce a series of investments cum partnerships from technology giants namely Facebook, Google and Intel, and investors such as Silver Lake, KKR, Vista among many.
Jio Platforms has raised $20 billion in just eight weeks, selling close to 33% of its stake .
However, the buzz surrounding Jio Platforms cannot be solely credited to its stupefying investments and partnerships. Recently, Jio Platforms announced its advent into the Video Conferencing sector via JioMeet, a move received rather ambivalently by the Indian audience. Within hours of its official launch, the homegrown video conferencing app was heavily censured for being nothing but a ‘copy and paste’ of the already existing Video Conferencing favourite, Zoom.
The similarities between the two apps were inescapable and it got netizens questioning whether there was any effort taken by the digital giant towards any innovation of sorts.
“Why waste time and resources in designing,” said one user on Twitter, “Just do things we are good at- copy and paste.”
The ‘Copy & Paste’
I. Straight off, the Logo. Zoom’s white-on-blue logo is only ‘a shade’ lighter to the one used by JioMeet.
Can you decipher which logo is that of JioMeet’s and which is that of Zoom’s?
II. When compared side by side, right from the landing page, the similarities are striking. The meetings page, the process to join a meeting, the procedure to schedule one, the user’s profile page, the About page, the contacts and swiping right to enable safe driving mode – the user interface (UI) of both apps look deceptively similar. Barring minor differences in text size and colour, the use of similar phrases, design and placements is likely to cause an easy confusion between the two.
JioMeet Vs. Zoom
Zoom Vs. JioMeet
Zoom Vs. JioMeet
Zoom Vs. JioMeet
III. Moreover, it was observed that JioMeet designed for the iOS interface used exactly the same icons for New Meeting, Share Screen and Join Schedule.
A twitterati spotted the striking similarity in the iOS interface of JioMeet and Zoom
By the looks of it, it can be safe to infer that JioMeet is nothing but a ‘doppleganger’ of Zoom. In fact, such stark similarity between the two made the Indian audience wonder why Jio Platforms came out with a separate app anyway, it could have simply rephrased the name to ‘JioZoom’.
Knock Knock...Who’s there?...A lawyer!
JioMeet’s uncanny similarities came as a surprise to the otherwise competition welcoming California based Zoom Video Communications. Its India head, Mr. Sameer Raje, dropped hints of a possible lawsuit against JioMeet. There lies no further information from Zoom on the lawsuit. However, JioMeet may have ticked a few boxes with respect to copyright infringement.
I. Firstly, can the US based Zoom Video Communications sue JioMeet under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957? It most certainly can. The Indian Copyright law stands in parity with international standards laid down in several conventions and treaties of which India is a part. Thus, works of foreign authors/owners are accorded the same protection in India to which the Indian citizens are entitled, under the Act.
II. Owing to the fact that both the applications revolve around ‘Video Conferencing’, they are bound to have a few fundamental similarities. Therefore, there stands no ground for a copyright infringement by JioMeet for having launched a video conferencing app. In other words, the Copyright Act does not protect mere ‘ideas’.
III. However, what is protected by the Copyright Act is the manner in which these mere ‘ideas’ are expressed, for that is what makes them unique. This is what differentiates all the existing applications that provide Video Conferencing services. However, by being a near exact copy of Zoom i.e. by copying its UI, JioMeet has copied Zoom’s manner of expression regarding the concept of Video Conferencing, thus inviting a possible suit of copyright infringement.
IV. Another significant point that makes this a case of copyright infringement is the impression that JioMeet created on its users. Its striking similarity to Zoom was pointed out by multiple netizens causing them to come to a conclusion that JioMeet was nothing but an imitation of Zoom.
Safe to say that JioMeet may have landed a case of copyright infringement for itself. However, it does seem to be a puzzler of sorts. Why would an organization as renowned as Jio choose to copy the UI of an already well- established application? It sure doesn’t lack funds to spend on innovation and it surely can’t be touted as being ignorant of the said statute with all its concomitant legal implications. So, the big question, Why?
I. A cleverly devised marketing strategy?
The entire copy and paste saga adroitly designed by JioMeet, may be nothing but a marketing propaganda. By making an app strikingly similar to Zoom, JioMeet attracted copious attention across social media platforms, with netizens sharing memes, tweets and screenshots of the similarities. This ultimately led to nothing but free publicity for JioMeet, giving them the headlines they needed and approximately 5 million downloads within a day of the launch. All this without a single penny spent on advertisement!
II. The misconception of Zoom being Chinese:
Despite several attempts made by the US based Zoom Video Communications to clear out the misunderstanding among its users of it being a Chinese company, there still lay certain skeptics. JioMeet may have managed to turn this to their advantage by being the ‘made in India’ version of Zoom. Further the ongoing ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ stance has strengthened its position making it successful in attracting the users of its rival applications.
III. Easy adaptability for users:
Zoom Video Communications established itself as the most successful video conferencing application, used by millions as the world shifted online. India itself accounted for over 18.2% of Zoom’s total downloads. The Indian audience was thus already accustomed to Zoom’s app. With the aim of not wanting their users to go through an entire learning process with its app, JioMeet simply copied Zoom’s UI to make the transition easier for anyone moving from Zoom.
If the copy and paste was done for a reason, JioMeet might have already planned its escape from a copyright infringement suit and it comes to no surprise that it already has.
I. The Copyright Act offers protection when an exact or near-exact copy of a work is made. This implies that one can get away from copying by meticulously avoiding exact limitations. Working its way around this loophole, JioMeet updated its application:
JioMeet’s updated logo can now be clearly differenciated from that of Zoom’s
Updated JioMeet Vs. Zoom
Prima facie, JioMeet has simply made cosmetic changes to its User Interface by meticulously adopting a new colour scheme of orange and dark blue. It has also updated the icons used in the top and bottom menu bars.
‘New Meeting’ , ‘Join’ and ‘Schedule’ in the Zoom UI has been simply rephrased as ‘Start a New Meeting’, ‘Join a Meeting’ and ‘Plan a Meeting’ respectively.
The ‘Meet and Chat’ and ‘Contacts’ option of Zoom has been changed to ‘Contacts’ ‘Home’ respectively.
The extended menues though still the same have been modified by adopting a dark blue colour scheme.
JioMeet’s logo now uses a white-on-orange colour scheme as opposed to the white-on-blue.
With the new updated JioMeet, there may stand no grounds on which Zoom can sue for copyright infringement since JioMeet has presented the idea/concept of ‘Video Conferencing’ in a manner that is dissimilar to Zoom’s i.e. different UIs.
II. Recently, there have also been unverified claims of JioMeet using a white-labelled version of Zoom, a service that Zoom does offer. This means that Zoom has legally permitted JioMeet to use its UI in exchange for money. In this case, there may be no copyright infringement, for there stands no grounds of copying itself.
With no further information on the possibility of a lawsuit from Zoom, it stands difficult to ascertain the status of JioMeet. Where the same idea is being developed in a different manner- in the present case it being Video Conferencing, it is manifest that the source being common, similarities are bound to occur. In such a case the courts should determine whether or not the similarities are fundamental or substantial.
Hence, for now all we can do is wait. If the ongoing deliberations among Zoom’s legal team result in filing of a plaint, the decision lies with the court.
Will JioMeet come out as being a successful ‘made in India’ video conferencing application or will there be another case engraved in the history of copyright infringement lawsuits? Only time will tell…