John Doe Orders In Indian Context

By: Ajay Sharma


INTRODUCTION

John Doe order is a pre-infringement injunction remedy provided to protect the intellectual property rights of the creator of artistic works like movies, songs, etc. John Doe order is also known as Rolling Anton Pillar, Anton Pillar or Ashok Kumar order. The Court of Queen’s Bench in the United Kingdom developed the concept of John Doe order in the form of an extraordinary equitable remedy where an injunction order is issued against the unknown defendant; therefore, allowing the plaintiff to search and seize the premises of the infringer with the intention of preserving the evidence that may be destroyed. The concept of John Doe order has evolved over time to suit the purpose of keeping up with peculiar complexities. Intellectual property rights have been recognized in India, to safeguard the rights of persons who invest in the research and development and the government has come up with several legislations to protect the rights of the investors and researchers i.e. Copyrights Act, 1957 and Patent Act, 1970. But these legislations alone are not enough to deal with the conflict of interest in cases involving trademark, copyright infringement, personal privacy etc. The emergence and recognition of Intellectual Property Rights have motivated the Indian Courts to take up initiatives in cases involving copyright infringement. The John Doe order is one exemplary outcome of such efforts.

JOHN DOE ORDERS IN INDIA

In Tej Television Ltd v Rajan Mandal[1], the Delhi High Court for the first time ever passed an ex-parte interim order allowing the plaintiff to search and seize equipment and devices of unknown defendants, thus starting the jurisprudence of passing orders against unknown defendant/s, which is commonly known as John Doe’s/ Ashok Kumar’s order. This case provided its due recognition to the John Doe orders in India and after this order, the other courts have used similar premises to protect the rights of the creator of the intellectual property. The same principle was adhered to in ESPN Software v Tudu Enterprises[2] as well. The use of John Doe order is not only restricted to the media industry, but pervades in other areas also. Where an order is passed to seize counterfeit goods in possession of an unknown person for infringement of trademark and copyright of the plaintiff, is one such example. In Luxottica Group Limited v Mr Munny[3], John Doe order was passed against the unknown defendant who indulged in manufacturing and sales of counterfeit opticals under the trademark of ‘RAY BAN’ without any prior permission from the plaintiff.

The concept behind the John Doe order arises from numerous situations where a court has to pass such orders even prior to the infringement. Ordered in form of Quia Timet injunction, it is done to protect the rights of the plaintiff and to restrain threatened or imminent wrongful acts of an unknown defendant. In India, John Doe order has not been extended beyond the intellectual property rights violation. People are unaware of its existence; though the same was already provided in our criminal legislations for protection of intellectual property infringement.

PROCEDURE TO GET A JOHN DOE ORDER IN INDIA

The John Doe order is granted under Order 39 Rule 1 and 2 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 (CPC), read with Section 151 of the CPC and Part III of Specific Relief Act, which refer to the Court’s power to grant a temporary injunction, but it prevails like a permanent injunction. There are few conditions to get a John Doe order:

Firstly, the Plaintiff has to satisfy the Court that his/her right has been infringed; with instances of the previous breach and sporadic infringement by known and unknown persons. Secondly, the plaintiff has to establish a prima facie case before any pre-emptive relief can be granted. Thirdly, the plaintiff has to establish that, in the absence of the requested John Doe order, defendant’s actions will potentially result in some financial or irreparable damages.

RELATION OF JOHN DOE ORDER AND MEDIA INDUSTRY

The problem of piracy has been on an increase in several sectors of the media industry. Piracy causes losses to the investors because those who upload a movie or a video on the internet do not pay any kind of royalty to the investors, nor do they pay the proper duty to the government. Therefore, this causes losses to both the government and the investors. With the internet saturation on a rise in India, the evil of online piracy is growing  at an alarming rate, and to fight with the problem of piracy, the Government of India was compelled to issue the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which mandate an intermediary to observe due diligence while discharging its duties and not knowingly host or publish any information which infringes the Intellectual Property Rights of anyone. But the guidelines would not stop the piracy because of the vastness of the domain. Most of such records are made available on different websites, on or before the date of release along with various other platforms like CDs, DVDs, etc. When a record is uploaded on the internet, it opens the floodgates for the masses to download it, thereby, causing heavy losses to the creators. The most difficult thing in the current piracy world is that the person who uploads such records on the internet is unknown to the world. Therefore, preventive action in the nature of ‘John Doe orders’ has become significant globally to prevent intellectual property right infringements.

The remedy of John Doe order has been invoked several times by the filmmakers to prevent the movies from being illegally downloaded from the internet. For the first time, in UTV Software Communication Limited v Home Cable Network Ltd[4], the Delhi High Court issued the John Doe order against the cable operator who illegally telecasted pirated version of films ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ and ‘Thank You’. After this instance, John Doe order has become a tool often used in the Media industry and seems to offer an effective way to curb piracy. In Red Chilies Entertainments Pvt Ltd v BSNL[5], the Madras High Court issued a John Doe/Ashok Kumar order to block 2650 entries on several websites. The invoked interim order was against several Internet Service Providers (ISPs), in a case of copyright infringement, directing the ISPs to disable access to websites upon the plaintiff’s request.

JOHN DOE ORDER AND INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER

John Doe order helps filmmakers and creators of intellectual property to fight against piracy and mostly it holds a positive opinion. On the contrary, some courts and private bodies have criticized the overreaching effects of a John Doe order. There are many cases in which the order issued by the court affects the other party in an unjustified manner like in RK Production v BSNL[6] where the court passed the John Doe order against several ISPs including Airtel. Airtel had to block the entire website. This resulted in a consumer complaint being filed against Airtel and the forum had directed Airtel to pay Rs. 20,000/- for deficiency in internet services, thereby, causing mental agony to the complainant(Airtel). Whenever production houses file a suit for a John Doe order to protect their movie from being pirated on the internet or a social network website, they demand to block the entire website which causes loss to the website owner. A Division Bench of the Delhi High Court took the notice of that and in Star India v Sujit Jha[7] held that pre-emptive order to block 73 websites is not suitable and is against the website owners. The Court narrowed the scope of the order by placing a restriction on the blocking of certain URL links rather than the entire websites. In Balaji Motion Pictures v BSNL[8], it was held that the plaintiff, in this case, was directed to serve a public notice stating the crux of the case and getting an order passed by the Court to the defendants, thus providing “sufficient service” to the defendants; allowing them a period of four days to apply against the grant of injunction. In this case, the Bombay High Court set out the protocol for the execution of John Doe order against the ISPs.

JUDICIAL GUIDELINES ON JOHN DOE ORDERS

In Eros International v BSNL[9], the Bombay High Court issued guidelines not just for the executive authorities but also for the jury and the plaintiff, to deal with the unknown defendants, especially ISPs and unidentified bloggers who violate the piracy laws. The guidelines are as follows:

  • The copyright holder has to verify and authenticate the alleged illicit links prior to submitting a request to block them.
  • The Courts while issuing a John Doe order, are advised to review the list and verify the authenticity or delegate a neutral third party to do so.
  • The ISPs are instructed to display a message on the blocked webpage that includes the particulars of the case and the reasons for blocking.
  • Websites would be blocked for only 21 days, and for extension of the ban, the plaintiff would be required to approach the court

[1] [2003] FSR 22.

[2]  CS (OS) 384/2011.

[3] CS (OS) 1846/2009.

[4] CS(OS) No 821/2011.

[5] CS No 601/2017.

[6] CS No 208/2012.

[7] CS (OS) 3702/2014.

[8] CS (OS) No 694/2016.

[9] CS(OS) No 2315/2016.


(Ajay Sharma is currently a student at National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi.)