John Doe Order for Masaan!

The Bombay High Court passed a John Doe order favoring Phantom Films to prevent the piracy of the movie “Masaan”. Masaan is a movie produced by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane under the Phantom Films banner. The order was not only issued against unknown persons, who are potential infringers but Sonali Cable Vision, SpectraNet (an ISP), Manish Realties, Macassar Productions, and Sikhya Entertainment were also named as defendants. This was a step taken towards curbing the nefarious act of piracy.

Phatom Films filed a complaint after they came across websites hosting several links to download the said movie. These links lay dormant but apparently would have become functional once the movie released. This was a clear case of how widespread and extensive the piracy trade is. Apprehending a potential future breach of their copyrighted work, the complainants sought to shut down the operation of these links which clearly had an intention to have unauthorized access to their work.

The orders are interestingly referred to as the John Doe or the Ashok Kumar Orders. John Doe (or Ashok Kumar) orders are used by movie studios to force internet service providers to indiscriminately block access to video sharing, file sharing and torrent sites, that are being used to pirate their films.

These orders are in the nature of injunctive reliefs which are nothing but “cease and desist” orders issued against unknown/anonymous persons or entities. Such injunctions are  known as John Doe orders because many a times the complainant is unaware about the identity of the person who poses a threat to his work. Hence, when a plaintiff is unaware about the identity of the infringer or the potential infringer, a John Doe can be listed as the defendant, or in case of India, an Ashok Kumar would suffice. Under the Civil Procedure Code of 1908, Order 39 Rule 1 & 2 r/w Section 151 facilitates the Courts to pass such an order, specifically when the petitioners have successfully made a strong case for themselves by establishing the fact that there is a strong probability that their copyrighted work maybe under the threat of piracy or network sharing, which could lead to a substantial financial loss.

These orders have certainly been an advantage for the plaintiffs in the field of copyright protection. A few examples, where the “John Doe” Order has been successfully instituted are matters relating to the protection of books before release, prevention of movie piracy, preventing showcasing of movies on cable network during the time of theatre release, and prevention of telecast of live sports events.

In India, a John Doe order was first issued in the Taj Television v. Rajan Mandal case in 2003. This case was relating to the mandatory requirement of a license for the telecasting of the FIFA World Cup of 2002. The famous production house Red Chillies Entertainment obtained a John Doe order for their movie Happy New Year from the Bombay High Court preventing illegal distribution of their film. Production houses of movies like Bodyguard, Singham and Bombay Velvet have also been successful in obtaining the said order for preventing piracy.

Authored by Suprita Acharya.

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