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In the last month alone, at least four “John Doe” orders have been issued by courts in India, for blocking access to any website which might be deemed to host links to pirated content. Producers of films such as Housefull 3, Waiting, Veerappan and Azhar have received orders from the Bombay High Court, which allow them to ask the ISPs to block user access to any website they believe hosts links which allow downloading of pirated content. One of the older orders also lists torrent sites, and users have been complaining of torrent sites being blocked in India.

John Doe (or Ashok Kumar, in the Indian context) refers to an unidentified entity, and orders allow content owners to shut down entire websites in order to prevent them from allowing piracy, without needing to go to court, for each time. To quote:

“Should the Plaintiffs find any actual instance of piracy or infringement, the Plaintiffs will be at liberty to immediately take action without having to move this Court once again. For this purpose, the Plaintiffs will be entitled to take assistance of the Police Authorities in the area(s) concerned. These authorities shall act on production of an authenticated copy of this order.”

A list of the last eight orders below. Some observations, based on the text of the order (and may not be applicable in each individual case):

1. Almost all these orders have an ISP (BSNL) as a defendant: Targeting ISPs is easy and effective for content owners. ISPs don’t want any liability (and shouldn’t have any), and given that they’re the intermediary for all traffic, content owners target them. An old interview, but former Saregama CEO Apurv Nagpal had once told MediaNama that ISPs should be held liable for content that flows through them. Nevermind the impossibility for each ISP to track all usage and keep track of content, of course. Half a year later, the Indian music industry got 104 music piracy sites shut down.

The argument is also useful since piracy sites are not based in India:

“He also submits that the defendant Nos.l to 57 do not have an address in India but that their websites are available to internet users in India through the Internet Services Providers (ISPs,) by defendant Nos.58 to 73, who are bound by the terms of their agreemernt with Department of Telecommunication (DoT), i.e., defendant No.74, to disallow access to platforms which host pirated copies of art work and to thereby preventing infringement of copyright and intellectual property”

2. All these orders are related to movie releases: Of the eight orders (five from this year) that we checked, all are related to movie releases, including (in reverse order of appearance): Housefull 3, Veerappan, Wanted, Ki and Ka, Dilwale, Bajirao Mastani and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. That said, widespread blocks have also been initiated in the past over sports tournaments.

3. All these cases have been filed by movie producers: Eros Entertainment, Viking Media & Entertainment, Ishika Focus Film Production LLP, Fox Star Studios, Red Chillies Entertainment. That said, in the past, STAR and Multi Screen Media have been active as well, blocking sites (including, once, Google Docs and Google’s short URL), when major sports tournaments are on.

4. Dead links used to show piracy will happen in the future: In some cases, producers showcase search results and websites hosting dead links of content, to suggest that they will be used for piracy, once the film is released. To quote a judgment:

“The URL links on the Internet, particulars of which are provided in paragraph 10 and 10A of the plaint indiates that more than 200 websites are offering access to the URLs listed in the plaint and in at Exhibit B1.

Accordingly it is submitted that unless urgent adinterim relief is granted there is every likelihood that this dormant link will be activated and once these are activated, upon release of the film, there will be large scale downloads of the film which may also result in illegal copies being made of the film.”

Of course, it’s not that live links are not showcased: “The next page of this exhibit is even more alarming, for it shows a direct link to a download of this movie and in at least five different formats. Clearly, the apprehension expressed by the Plaintiff is justified.”

5. Courts rely on past orders for reference, and there are many: In case of the May 25th order, it says that the judge has “perused the orders passed by the various High Courts and this Court granting injunction on the similar lines so as to protect copy right.” Remember that when it came to online blocks on copyright violation grounds, Reliance Entertainment was the first, for Singham, in 2011. In fact, the order for Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, the order mentions that Saikrishna Rajagopal, the lawyer for the plaintiff, highlighted earlier instance such as:

“‘Bang Bang’ and’Bombay Velvet’. Similarly, in a suit filed by Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd. against sinrLilar websites who were hosting pirated content related to the 2014 FIFA S’orld Cup, and in suits filed by Star India Pvt. Ltd. in respect of various sporting events such as the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, the India-England Series 2014, India-Sri Lanka Series 2014, the India-Australia. Cricket Series 2014-15, and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015…”

6. IT’S URGENT: Movies make most of their money in the first week of release (we once reported that it’s 70% in the first weekend alone). Thus content owners argue that they stand to lose the most in the first week itself, and these blocks are necessary for that time period.

“He further submits that pirated copies are ordinarily accessed within the first week of release o f a film and, therefore, an injunction would be necessary prior to the release”

John Doe Orders

In case we’ve missed any, do let us know (at nikhil@medianama.com).

1. Content: HouseFull 3 (Movie)
Date: June 1, 2016
Court: Bombay High Court
Filed by: Eros International
Judge: Justice B. P. Colabawalla

2. Content: Veerappan (Movie)
Date: May 25th, 2016
Court: Bombay High Court
Filed by: Viking Media & Entertainment
Defendent: BSNL
Judge: Justice B.R. Gavai

3. Content: Waiting (Movie)
Date: May 25th, 2016
Court: Bombay High Court
Filed by: Ishika Focus Film Production LLP
Judge: Justice B.R. Gavai

4. Content: Azhar (Movie)
Date: May 12th 2016
Court: Delhi High Court
Filed by: Sony Pictures Network India Private Limited
Judge: Justice V. Kameswar Rao

5. Content: Ki & Ka (Movie)
Date: 30th March 2016
Court: Bombay High Court
Filed by:  Eros International Media Limited & Anr.
Judge: Justice G.S. Patel

6. Content: Dilwale (Movie)
Date: December 17, 2015
Court: Bombay High Court
Filed by: Red Chillies Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.
Judge: Justice AK Menon

7. Content: Bhajirao Mastani (Movie)
Date: December 17, 2015
Court: Bombay High Court
Filed by: Eros International Media Ltd
Judge: Justice AK Menon

8. Content: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (Movie)
Date: October 30th 2015
Court: Delhi High Court
Filed by: Fox Star Studios India
Judge: Justice Najmi Waziri