Read Order: Universal City Studios LLC & Ors. vs. 123Movieshub.TC & Ors. 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, February 25, 2022: Noticing that the reliefs claimed in the plaint by Universal City Studios LLC & Others pertained to injunction and restraining the defendants from violating the copyrights of each of the plaintiffs, in their various creative works, the Delhi High Court has registered the plaint as a suit and held that illegal websites of the defendants were made with the primary and sole objective to pirate copyrighted works for their own commercial benefits and they cannot be permitted to continue doing so.

Observing that the rogue websites of the defendants were actively streaming motion pictures and television content of the plaintiffs through illegal means, the Single Judge Asha Menon issued summons and notice in the application to the defendants (Rogue websites) directing them to file the affidavit of admission/denial of the documents filed by the plaintiffs. 

Going by the background of the case, the present was a suit for permanent injunction, rendition of accounts, damages IPR, copyright etc. filed by six plaintiffs, namely, Universal City Studios LLC., (ii) Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., (iii) Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., (iv) Netflix Studios, LLC, (v) Paramount Pictures Corporation and (vi) Disney Enterprises, Inc. 123Movieshub.TC & Others (first to thirty-fourth defendants) were described as rogue websites indulging in online piracy by permitting access to illegal downloads of the movies of the plaintiffs. 

The list of defendants also included the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY).

The suit had been filed with the prayer for permanent injunction restraining 123Movieshub or any such other mirror/redirect/alphanumeric website which appears to be associated with any of these websites from, in any manner, hosting, streaming, reproducing, distributing, making available to the public and/or communicating to the public, or facilitating the same, on their websites, through the internet, in any manner whatsoever, any cinematograph work/content/program/show in relation to which the plaintiffs have copyright. 

After considering the submissions, Justice Menon found that the plaintiffs are different corporate entities, and they may have a common grievance against the defendants for uploading and streaming their copyrighted work without authority or license, but the similarity in reliefs claimed against the defendants would not suffice for the plaintiffs to join hands in a single action. 

Though it was claimed by all the plaintiffs that the “cause of action has arisen from making available identical content on the defendant Websites and thus, the Plaintiffs have joined all the defendant Websites in the present suit”, this was ex-facie incorrect, as the creative content of each plaintiff was not identical to that of the other, added the Single Judge. 

The High Court observed that what was identical is the allegation that copyright had been infringed and there was no identity of copyright, the work, the infringement of each work of the plaintiffs by each one of the defendants. 

Thus, the requirements of Order I Rule 1(a) & (b) CPC were not met in the present suit and all of the plaintiffs could not join in one suit, even against a similar set of defendants, added the Court. 

With regard to the submission of the counsel for the plaintiffs that separate court fees in respect of each of the plaintiffs had been paid and that therefore, the requirements of law were met in the present case, Justice Menon clarified that paying requisite court fees cannot validate what is not within the procedure prescribed.

However, even though it is clear that the suit does not fall within the prescription of Order Rule 1(a) or/and (b) CPC, there is no doubt that the court cannot reject the suit on the ground of this “procedural objection”, added the Single Judge. 

The High Court elaborated that it is evident from Order I Rule 2 of CPC that where it appears to the court that any joinder of plaintiffs may embarrass or delay the trial of the suit, the court may put the plaintiffs to their election to or order separate trials or “make such other order as may be expedient”.

The Court has the option to direct the splitting of the suits specifically for each of the plaintiffs and direct separate trial in each suit, and at the same time, the court also has power to consolidate suits in appropriate cases, added the High Court. 

The counsel for the plaintiffs has also sought interim direction to the Department of Telecom and Ministry of Information Technology (forty-forth and forty-fifth defendants) to block access to the rogue websites as identified in the present suit, as by the continuous infringement of the copyright of their creative work in the shape of various movies as listed in the plaint including Mulan, Lego Batman, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, San Andreas and Joker and TV Series such as Mob Psycho, Friends, Stranger Things, Sacred Games, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures and Arrow etc., immense loss is being caused to the plaintiffs.

Therefore, noticing that the websites are anonymous in nature and the information provided in the public domain regarding the owners of the websites is inherently incorrect or protected behind the veil of secrecy and hidden behind private domain services offered by various domain name Registrars, the High Court found force in the contention of the counsel for the plaintiffs that it is virtually impossible to bring the owners of these websites before the court and to ensure that the orders are complied with.

Accordingly, the High Court directed the Department of Telecom to issue notifications calling upon the telecom service providers registered under them to disable access into India of the websites of defendants within 36 hours of the receipt of the order. 

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