On 20 June, Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM), which operates the Sony network of channels and Sony Six—authorized broadcaster for Fifa World Cup 2014—approached the Delhi high court, contending that its exclusive rights to live stream matches of the tournament on the internet are being infringed by certain websites.
In its revised order on 1 July, it brought down the number of such websites to 219 from 472, in response to a plea by several internet service providers (ISPs), including telecom services providers—Bharti Airtel Ltd and Reliance Communications Ltd.
The high court, in an order dated 23 June, restrained 472 websites “from in any manner hosting, streaming, broadcasting, rebroadcasting, retransmitting, exhibiting, making available for viewing and downloading, providing access to and/or communicating to the public, displaying, uploading, modifying, publishing, updating and/or sharing (including to its subscribers and users), through the internet, in any manner whatsoever,...in relation to the 2014 FIFA World Cup matches and content related to it".
MSM has acquired exclusive television, radio, mobile transmission and broadband internet transmission rights with respect to the Fifa World Cup 2014 for the territories of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. These rights include the live, delayed, highlights, on demand, and repeat broadcasting of the football matches.
MSM welcomed the court’s move to act upon piracy. “This is a welcome step and in the right direction, not just for us with Fifa but for all premium sporting properties. As sports rights get more expensive there needs to be a way to protect the broadcasters rights who pay a huge sum to get the live feed. This is a very positive step to stop piracy which is plaguing the entire sports and entertainment business," said Rohit Gupta, president at Multi Screen Media.
The new list of 219 “rogue" websites, however, does not include Google Docs—a web-based office suite from technology firm Google Inc.—which was mentioned in the earlier list.
A Google spokesperson said, “When notified with exact details about the alleged copyright infringement, we take action—including removing infringing content from Google’s services under applicable laws and act against repeat infringers. Our services are not included in the court’s current order, and we are not able to comment on it further."
Experts have mixed views on the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 that came into effect from January 1958. The Act since has been amended five times—in 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1999 and 2012—“to protect the music and film industry and address its concerns."
According to IT law expert Apar Gupta, “such ex-parte (when the other party is not present) orders should be generally avoided, especially when there is a specific rule under the Copyright Act, which requires that the owner must first contact the intermediary and then approach the court...It appears that parties are seeking to have it both ways—seeking common law as well as specific statutory remedies."
Gupta believes that even if the period of the order is shortlived, websites remain inaccessible for the whole population of the nation, “which is avoidable".
According to Sunil Abraham, executive director of Centre for Internet and Society, “block orders (such as the list of 219 websites termed by the plaintiff as ‘rogue websites’ with pirated content) that make whole websites inaccessible, are not necessarily proportionate to the infringement".
Abraham also questioned the wisdom of banning “rogue sites" in entirety, given that they may also have content that does not pertain to Fifa. According to him, it is not clear if the court order will remain in force after the football World Cup is over.
Such orders, also known as “John Doe" orders, are typically “cease and desist" orders passed by a court of law against an anonymous entity, or entities.
According to Pavan Duggal, cyberlaw expert and an supreme court advocate, “John Doe" orders (or the ‘Ashok Kumar’ concept as known in India), which are used to protect intellectual property (IP), have “now become effective reminders that one cannot hide behind the cloak of anonymity of the internet, and courts can unearth real identities and process in accordance with the law". He, however, acknowledged that the problem lies in enforcing a “John Doe" order when the ISP is outside India’s jurisdiction.