Monday, April 06, 2009

IIT-Bombay plans legal action against a coaching centre

The Times of India reported sometime ago about a coaching centre ad that displayed an 'appreciative letter' from a dean at IIT-B whose son studied there. The report also added that over 30 IIT-B professors sent their sons and daughters there.

Clearly, the commercial value of this information is immense, and the coaching centre -- Pace, in this case -- chose to exploit it.

Today, ToI reports that IIT-B "would initiate legal proceedings against ... Pace." Here are some excerpts:

"IIT-Bombay wrote a letter to Pace, asking for all mention of IIT-Bombay to be removed from the class's publicity material,'' IIT-B PRO Jaya Joshi said.

However, on Friday, the coaching class once again published a newspaper ad stating that the IIT director, dean as well as 30 IIT professors sent their children to the centre, following which IIT announced legal proceedings against Pace.

Pace MD Praveen Tyagi, however, felt that if the IIT-B dean, director and professors sent their children to Pace, it was something parents ought to know while selecting a coaching class.

IIT-B director Devang Khakhar said, "What is published in the ad is true. But where we send our children for coaching is a personal matter and the IIT is no way connected. We do not endorse any coaching class.''

On the face of it, IIT-B's case appears weak. I haven't seen the ad, so I'm not able to say how exactly IIT-B figures in the ad. If it appears in a headline ["Over 30 IIT-B professors send their kids to our centre," implying some sort of an institutional endorsement], there might be a case [Update: From this DNA report, Pace has done precisely that: "the director of IIT Bombay, deans of IIT and 30 professors of IIT Bombay have entrusted us with the responsibility of coaching their children for IIT-JEE."]. If, on the other hand, it appears only as the place of work of some of the parents, I don't know how the Institute can complain about this factual information.

This is not the first time that we are discussing the ethics of coaching centre ads. The previous episode was about JEE rank holders agreeing to appear in coaching centre ads in return for cash, even though they didn't study in those centres. While it appeared to me that this crossed the ethical line, Vivek asked why this should bother us when our celebrities routinely peddle lots of stuff that they may or may not use [for example, does Hrithik Roshan really ride a Hero Honda bike to work?]

There's a difference between these two episodes, though. This time, Pace has 'facts' on its side.

Does anyone know what the law says? Does IIT-B have a good case?