Rogue websites restrained from streaming pirated content by the Delhi High Court
Recently, in the case of Star India Pvt. Ltd. & Anr v. Yodesiserial.Su & Ors., the Delhi High Court granted an ex-parte interim injunction against various Defendants who were infringing the copyrights of the Plaintiffs in their shows/films/contents (the “Shows”).
The Plaintiffs are producers of various television shows, films, and web series broadcasted on their channels as well as on other OTT platforms such as Disney+ and Hotstar and they claimed copyright infringement against the Defendants in respect of their content, specifically on the basis of their rights in 26 listed Shows. The Plaintiff claimed first ownership of the copyright in the listed content and alleged that the Defendants had infringed their exclusive rights to stream or telecast the Shows. The Plaintiff provided evidence to prove rogue websites were being operated by the Defendants wherein they were engaged in piracy. Further, the Plaintiff also listed the domain name registrars as well as the internet and telecom service providers in this regard. In addition, the Plaintiff also listed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in order to ensure compliance with the orders of the Court.
The Court held that the Plaintiff had made out a prima facie case in their favour and found that the Defendants were engaged in the piracy of the Plaintiff’s copyrighted works. The Court restrained the Defendants from streaming the Shows on their websites and directed the domain name registrar to accordingly identify the registrant of the listed websites and block access to them. The Defendants were restrained from communicating to the public, hosting, storing, reproducing, streaming, broadcasting, re-broadcasting or making available for viewing the 26 listed Shows of the Plaintiff.
Streaming pirated content through rogue websites is becoming a major cause of concern for copyright owners. In recent times there has been a transition of dependence more towards OTT platforms from cinema halls and Covid-19 has led a further shift towards the online space. Films and series released online are at risk because unauthorised infringers are able to quickly record and leak them. With a complete lockdown, the demand for online viewings increased multifold and so did illegal downloading. This has called for reformed laws and regulations in this area to penalize infringers. Perhaps, the Indian legislature could follow the American model and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) where infringers of digital rights face criminal penalties. The DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions discourage copyright pirates and ban "black-box” devices. The “notice and take down” provision also gives copyright holders some degree of protection because infringing content can be quickly disabled.
Now as the Covid-19 related restrictions are being eased, it is worth considering whether things would go back to “normal” for the film and entertainment industry in the post-Covid era. Social distancing norms shall remain in place and in general, with the fear amongst people and the availability and ease of watching films and shows through internet platforms, perhaps people may be less inclined to go back to cinema halls. In fact, it can even be argued that this is the new “normal” and perhaps film releases through OTT platforms shall continue the way they have. If this is to be the case, there is all the more reason for reform in the law around this area to adapt to the new circumstances. With talks of a reformed Copyright Act, we can hope to have an updated law in this area soon. In the meantime, the Courts seem to be adapting to the changed circumstances.