Dealing with Misuse
Delhi HC Permanently Restrains Rogue Websites From Illegally Streaming Shows, Films Broadcasted On Disney Hotstar
In a most significant development, we saw how as recently as on October 4, 2023, the Delhi High Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest oral judgment titled Star India Pvt Ltd & Anr vs Yodesiserial.Su & Ors in CS(COMM) 353/2021 and cited in Neutral Citation: 2023:DHC:7230 has permanently restrained 50 rogue websites from illegally streaming various television shows, TV series and movies broadcasted on OTT platform Disney plus Hotstar. It must be noted that the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice C. Hari Shankar said in no uncertain terms that prima facie, exclusive rights to stream or telecast the content contained in the 26 shows and films vests in the platform and not others. It merits mentioning that the Delhi High Court was hearing a suit moved by Star India Private Limited and Disney Lus Hotstar against the rogue websites alleging that they were engaged in piracy of their copyrighted content.
It may be recalled that the Delhi High Court in August 2021 had passed an ad interim injunction order against the rogue websites. In a self-defeating move, we saw how none of the defendants were represented through a counsel in the entire proceedings. While decreeing the suit, the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice C. Hari Shankar waxed eloquent maintaining most sagaciously that “it is but natural” that the defendants being rogue entities, who are involved only in the business of unauthorized broadcasting of television shows, films and web series in which others hold copyright, have chosen not to appear before the court.
To top it all, the Bench also minced just no words absolutely and pulled back no punches to hold most decisively that, “This is not a singular phenomenon. It is observed by this Court in several matters where such rogue websites surface, that they do not turn up to contest the suit. Their prevailing philosophy appears to be to make hay while sun shines.” No denying it. No doubt, to combat such terrible menace spreading like malaria, there must be strictest action that should be initiated against such rogue websites so that no one in future can ever dare to take law for granted any longer!
At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice C. Hari Shankar of Delhi High Court sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The plaintiffs are producers of various television shows, films and web series, broadcasted on their channels as well as on the Disney plus Hotstar platform, which is stated to be owned and operated by Plaintiff No. 2. The present plaint asserts copyright, of the plaintiff, in respect of the following contents/films/shows:
S. No. Name of the Show
1. Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlaata Hai
2. Ghum Hai Kisi Ke Pyaar Meiin
4. Yeh Hai Chahatein
6. Saath Nibhaana Saathiya 2
7. Aapki Nazron Ne Samjha
8. Pandya Store
9. Mehndi Hai Rachne Waali
10. Zindagi Mere Ghar Aana
11. Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke
12. Ek Hazaroon Mein Meri Behna Hai
13. Lakshmi Ghar Aayi
14. Mann Ki Awaaz Pratigya 2
15. RadhaKrishn – Punar Milan
16. City of Dreams (2 Seasons – Second season coming out on July 30)
18. November Story
19. Ok Computer
20. 1232 Kms
21. Live Telecast
24. Special Ops
25. Roar of the Lion
26. 1962: War in the Hills.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 that, “The plaintiffs have also placed on record the agreements whereunder the plaintiffs produced the aforesaid shows/films and became the first owner of copyright therein, and has also filed a tabular statement referring to the relevant paragraphs of the said agreements. These agreements indicate that, as the producers of the aforesaid shows, the plaintiffs are the first owner and copyright holder therein, within the meaning of Section 14(d) of the Copyright Act, 1957.”
Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 3 that, “Prima facie, therefore, exclusive rights to stream or telecast the content contained in the aforesaid 26 items vests in the plaintiffs, to the exclusion of others.”
As we see, the Bench then points out in para 4 that, “For this purpose, the plaintiffs have also relied on Sections 37 and 51 of the Copyright Act.”
Do note, the Bench notes in para 5 that, “Defendant Nos. 1 to 48, initially impleaded are, according to the plaint, rogue websites, engaged in the business of piracy of copyrighted content on the internet. The plaint has placed, on record, from pages 234 to 1004, material to indicate that the defendants’ websites are engaging in piracy of the content over which the plaintiffs holds copyright.”
To be sure, the Bench observes in para 6 that, “In such circumstances, submitted the plaintiffs, the Division Bench of this Court has, in Department of Electronics & Information Technology v. Star India Pvt. Ltd. 2016 SCC OnLine Del 4160 and a learned Single Judge of this Court has, in UTV Software Communication Ltd. v. Torrentmovies.Co 2019 SCC OnLine Del 8002, approved/taking down of the rogue websites.”
Adding more to it, the Bench mentions in para 7 that, “The materials placed on record from pages 234 to 1004 of the documents filed with the plaint, do make out a case of the defendants engaging in rampant piracy of copyrighted content, thereby satisfying the concept of “rogue websites” as envisaged by this Court in the aforesaid two decisions in UTV Software Communication Ltd 2019 SCC OnLine Del 8002, and Department of Electronics & Information Technology 2016 SCC OnLine Del 4160.”
As things stand, the Bench discloses in para 8 that, “Defendant No. 49 is the domain name registrar of Defendant No. 48. Defendant Nos. 50 to 58 are internet and telecom service providers (ISPs), providing internet and telecom services to the public. They control the gateways which enable access to the defendants’ websites. Defendant Nos. 59 and 60 are the Department of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, which ensure compliance with court orders of injunction.”
It would be germane to note that the Bench notes in para 9 that, “The plaintiffs have also placed on record orders passed in other cases, where injunctions had been granted.”
Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 10 that, “In view of the aforesaid submissions, this Court had, on 9 August 2021, issued summons in the present suit, calling for a written statement from the defendants. Additionally, an ad interim order was passed in the following terms:
(i) Defendant Nos. 1 to 48, as well as their owners, partners, proprietors, officers, servants, affiliates, employees and all others in capacity of principal or agent, acting on their behalf were restrained from communicating to the public, hosting, storing, reproducing, streaming, broadcasting, re-broadcasting or making available for viewing the aforesaid 26 works of the plaintiffs enumerated in para 1 supra.
(ii) Defendant No. 49 was directed to forthwith suspend the domain name registration of Defendant No. 48.
(iii) Defendant No. 49 was directed to disclose the identity, address and billing details of the registrant of the domain of Defendant No. 48 (ghumhaikisikepyaarmein.com).
(iv) Defendant Nos. 50 to 58 were directed, forthwith, to block access to the domains enumerated in Serial No.1 of the document accompanying the plaint.
(v) Defendant Nos. 59 and 60 were directed to instruct the Internet and Telecom Service Providers registered under the said defendants to block access to the various domains identified by the plaintiffs at Serial No. 1 of the documents annexed to the plaint.
(vi) The aforesaid directions were also extended to any websites or domain names which were merely alphanumerics/redirects/mirror variations of the aforesaid infringing domain names of Defendant Nos. 1 to 48.
(vii) Defendant Nos. 50 to 60 were directed to ensure compliance with the aforesaid directions within 48 hours of service on them by the plaintiffs of a copy of the order passed today by e-mail.”
Further, the Bench states in para 11 that, “Subsequently, several other platforms/defendants, which were unauthorisedly broadcasting content in which the plaintiffs have copyright, surfaced, and, on applications being filed by the plaintiffs, were permitted to be impleaded as Defendants 62 to 352. The interim directions contained in para 15 of the order dated 9 August 2021 were extended to the said defendants vide orders dated 29 November 2021, 21 January 2022, 10 March 2022 and 28 July 2022.”
It is worth noting that the Bench notes in para 12 that, “As no written statement was filed by any of the said defendants 1 to 276 and 277 to 352, their right to file written statement was struck off by orders dated 28 July 2022 and 18 August 2023.”
Quite glaringly, the Bench reveals in para 13 that, “None of the said defendants are represented today either.”
Most significantly and also most forthrightly, the Bench mandates in para 14 propounding that, “The defendants being rouge entities, who are involved only in the business of unauthorised broadcasting of television shows, films and web series in which others hold copyright, it is but natural that they have not chosen to appear before the Court. This is not a singular phenomenon. It is observed by this Court in several matters where such rouge websites surface, that they do not turn up to contest the suit. Their prevailing philosophy appears to be to make hay while the sun shines.”
As a corollary, the Bench directs in para 15 that, “In view of the aforesaid, the assertions in the plaint vis-à-vis the said defendants are deemed to be admitted. No purpose would be served in keeping this suit pending. In my considered opinion, the suit merits being decreed under Order VIII Rule 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC).”
Most remarkably, the Bench holds in para 16 that, “The suit is decreed in the following terms:
(i) As Defendants 49 to 61 have already complied with the interlocutory directions passed by this Court in para 15 of the order dated 9 August 2021, no further directions are required to be issued to them, save and except to obligate them to retain the status quo in respect of the aforesaid websites.
(ii) There shall be a decree of permanent injunction restraining Defendants 1 to 48 and 62 to 352, as well as all others acting on their behalf from, in any manner, communicating, hosting, streaming or making available for viewing and downloading, without authorization, on websites or any other platforms, including social media handles, through the internet or in any other manner whatsoever, content in which the plaintiff holds copyright.”
For clarity, the Bench clarifies in para 17 that, “Mr. Angad does not press for costs or damages. As such, the suit stands decreed in the aforesaid terms.”
Finally, the Bench concludes by holding in para 18 that, “Let a decree sheet be drawn up accordingly.”