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Sharechat Takes Bytedance To Court Over Copyright Infringement

ShareChat accused Bytedance of "three sins": copying slogans, copying product forms, copying content.

Oct 31, 2018 by Ruiyao Luo
Sharechat Takes Bytedance To Court Over Copyright Infringement

Graphic design by Sujith Sukumar/The Passage

In July this year, Chinese tech major Bytedance brought Helo, its social media app to India. It bears stunning resemblances to a similar Indian social app ShareChat. The familiarity between Helo and ShareChat app in terms of look, features and how they function, has affected ShareChat’s downloads, making the Chinese app Helo exceed in terms of app downloads.

The Chinese copycat app started eating into ShareChat’s business since July this year. And now ShareChat has dragged Helo to court for violating its copyright. According to the "Economic Times" report, on October 30, the Delhi High Court ordered Bytedance to stop using the words "ShareChat" in Google ads. In addition, the court also directed Google, a defendant in the matter, to not allow, and to deactivate Bytedance’s “use of ‘Share-Chat’ or any identical or deceptively similar mark” on its ad-words platform within 48 hours, the ET report said.

In a response to The Passage’s query, a ShareChat spokesperson said, “Due to the court order we would not be able to share any details. We will let you know when we have something (to share).” The three-way copying: feature, keywords and content

According to The Economic Times report, ShareChat stated in a document submitted to the court on October 26 that when users searched for "ShareChat" on Google, Helo would appear in the results of the first searches. The Passage, previously reported how Helo has included the term Share and Chat in its name on Google AdWords to affect search results. Helo’s name on Google Playstore includes the term “Share&Chat” that gives it an undue advantage over its Indian competitor ShareChat.

(Helo's Google Play interface)
(Helo's Google Play interface)

(The screenshot of the Google search results for ShareChat)
(The screenshot of the Google search results for ShareChat)

ShareChat said that in addition to the "copying" on the advertising words, Helo's products are "completely copied" from ShareChat. Helo "not only copied (ShareChat's) features, appearance and overall look and feel, but also copied many icons." The Passage report also showed that after downloading the apps of Helo and ShareChat, the products are even more similar. From the language selection, interface, to the platform content interface, it all looks almost exactly the same, unless you carefully look for the differences, it is difficult to find any difference.

In addition, the content of the two platforms is exactly the same that are mainly short videos in a local language, including pictures and GIF animations. Pictures and videos are basically fun, or similar to chicken soup, and even some pictures and videos are coincident.

The complaint submitted by ShareChat in the Delhi High Court also claim that Helo copied/abuse the content and comments posted by users on the ShareChat platform and publish them as "false users" on their own platforms.

A late entrant leading the market

When Helo was launched in July this year, Bytedance invested heavily in marketing to acquire users, which resulted in close to 10 million users in less than three months. It took nearly 18 months for ShareChat to reach this number.

“Chinese companies are better at promoting short-video OTT content apps because they have already gone through this process in their country,” Hannish Bhatia, senior analyst for IoT and mobile networks at Counterpoint Research, said in an interview to The Passage.

“These Chinese startups are very aware that video content production is not their core competency in a country like India, mainly due to cultural barriers and inadequate control over the value chain of the content industry. Therefore, short video content (original, licensed or public) packages may still be the focus area," he added.

The decisiveness of Bytedance to invest in short video company Helo brought desired results for the company. This September, Helo surpassed ShareChat in terms of downloads. According to App Annie's October 31 data, Helo's ranking in social applications has been ahead of ShareChat since September.

The growth of short video has been proved in China which is pushing such Chinese companies to compete in India. The Indian short video based social media ShareChat that has emerged as a local leader has to compete with fast-moving Chinese companies for user time.

After completing the USD3 billion Pre-IPO round of financing led by Softbank, the alleged Bytedance valuation has surpassed Uber to win the world's most valuable startup for USD75 billion. In addition to the latest launch of Helo, Bytedance also launched its global video app Tik Tok in India. Moreover, it has also invested in the Indian dialect news aggregation product DailyHunt.

ShareChat that launched in 2015 has more than 7.5 million daily activities, and the number of users has exceeded 50 million. It recently raised nearly USD100 million in new investments at a valuation of USD460 million.

(With inputs from Avanish Tiwary.)

Ruiyao Luo

Ruiyao Luo is a Beijing-based tech reporter. She focuses on emerging startups and tracks the trends in the startup industry in India and China. She can be reached at Ruiyaoluo@thepassage.cc.

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