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Cautious govt seeks Thai nod for image

Caught on the wrong foot in the controversy over anti-tobacco pictorial warnings allegedly featuring English footballer John Terry

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Published: May 12, 2012 3:37:09 am

Caught on the wrong foot in the controversy over anti-tobacco pictorial warnings allegedly featuring English footballer John Terry,the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has now found itself entangled in a copyright issue. It has recently obtained an approval from Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to a replacement warning image the copyright of which is owned by Thailand’s public health ministry.

Cautious after the earlier controversy,the ministry has shot off a letter to its counterpart in Thailand seeking permission for using the image featuring a headless torso with a diseased lung — clearly not willing to take any chances with a face any more. The image is one of a bank created by World Health Organisation to support implementation of its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and it mentions that the copyright is held by the Thai government.

The earlier pictorial warning with a face that had an uncanny likeness to the Chelsea captain,Terry,had been circulated along with a set of other warnings in May last year to be used by tobacco companies in packets marketed December onwards. Companies lapped up the chance to print pictures of one of the world’s highest paid footballers on cigarette packets free of charge,adding to the ministry’s woes.

Terry’s manager had threatened to sue the government and despite its official stand that the resemblance to Terry was a mere coincidence and the image was a result of an artist’s imagination,the ministry decided to replace it. From a set of seven images sent by the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity,it zeroed in on the one whose copyright is held by Thailand.

Confirming that a letter has been sent to Thailand,a senior official in the ministry said: “Under FCTC,countries are permitted to share publicity material and this letter is just a formality. It is not as if this is an IPR issue and we need the permission of the government of Thailand to use it because it is nonspecific image of a torso with a superimposed image of black diseased lung. We sent the letter to avoid any issues later as the colour scheme etc may be the same. It has already been approved by the minister.”

Though the image is in the public domain,the ministry is not willing to give it out before the relevant clearances come in — for fear of stirring yet another hornet’s nest. They are hoping to get the green signal in the next couple of months. Ironically,bulk of the cigarette packets with pictorials now feature the “John Terry” warning and this is also the only one which is printed as per prescribed dimensions and colours,with minimum distortion,say officials handling tobacco control in the ministry.

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