Viacom18 has secured an interim John Doe order from the Madras High Court restricting over 1250 identified and ‘all other unidentified’ websites, which might be deemed to host links to pirated content, prior to the launch of its movie Force 2. A John Doe order gives ISPs the power to block websites upon request from content owners (hence, ‘unidentified’ websites), without having to validate each block with the court. The court further directed 40 ISPs and other unidentified ISPs to block the given websites. Interestingly, the current John Doe order granted is for blocking entire websites rather than specific URLs. It’s not clear how long the block is valid for. We’ve asked Viacom18 (which sent us a press release announcing this development) for a copy of the order.

Note that the current ruling is unlike the ruling by the Bombay High Court for Eros’ petition to block entire website in July, when the HC ruled that John Doe orders apply only to specific URLs or subsections of a website that might infringe or have infringed copyrights in the past. While blocking specific URLs does increase the chance of a pirated copy popping up on the same website again, it ensures collateral damage is kept to a minimum. Websites like Vimeo or DailyMotion for example, could get blocked entirely for letting a cam-rip copy of a pirated film accidentally slip by.

John Does orders have affected innocent parties:

Blanket orders have affected parties who were not actually involved in piracy or copyright infringement in the past. Madaboutmovies, a website involved in movie reviews and discussion was blocked by several ISPs, while its administrator pointed out that there was no sort of relief or means to counter the block. Similarly,, an online retailer of DVDs was blocked by ISPs after two different John Doe orders were issued by Justice Patel of the Bombay HC, but the owners of the website claim to sell original DVDs released by content owners themselves, and to have never indulged in piracy.

Note that, having an ISPs email address on blocked websites was mandated by the Bombay High Court when it issued John Doe orders for Dishoom, so that unknown parties could file an appeal if they got affected by the ban. However, several ISPs failed to provide such an e-mail ID, or it simply did not work.

Taking John Doe orders from Courts is increasingly becoming the weapon of choice for film producers to check piracy. The trend began back in July 2011, when several ISPs had blocked access to file sharing sites following an order from the Delhi HC. In recent times, the number of John Doe orders issued have increased, with almost every new release bringing with it a fresh set of websites to ban.

A timeline of John Doe orders issued in recent years:

– Between May to June, 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. More on this here.
– In June, The Delhi High Court had granted a John Doe order (or Ashok Kumar order) to Sony Pictures Networks India and Balaji Motion Pictures, for their film Azhar.
– Balaji Motion Pictures had also obtained a John Doe order for its film Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, which released in January this year.
– In September last year, production company Hakikat Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. had got a similar John Doe order from Delhi HC for its film MSG 2: The Messenger.
– In May 2015, the Delhi HC had granted a John Doe order to Multi Screen Media for its film Piku.
– In the same month, Fox Star Studio and Phantom Films got a John Doe order for Bombay Velvet. More here.
– In March 2015, Shemaroo got a John Doe order from the Bombay High Court, for the movie Hunterrr. Shemaroo had named five multi-system-operators as defendants, along with John Doe.
– In September last year, Fox Star Studios got a John Doe order for the movie Bang Bang, which got 72 websites blocked.

Image credit: Duncan Hull under CC BY 2.0