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ROGUE WEBSITES BOWLED OUT BY STAR PVT LTD

November 25, 2021

Cricket is more than just a sport in India, it is, as many would fervently argue, is akin to a religion. As such, events such as the #IPL and #T20 World Cup (ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021) are events which are watched by a huge percentage of the Indian population. In this context, the issue of illegal streaming and piracy, especially of sporting events, is hardly a new one, and has in fact been substantively dealt with by Indian Courts in the past. In this regard, you may please refer to our earlier article on the subject matter here (which was published first at Bar & Bench).

Consequently, it was inevitable that the issue of illegal streaming would arise in the case of the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021. Recently vide an Order dated October 12, 2021, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court predictably restrained certain ‘Rogue websites’ from streaming, broadcasting, reproducing and sharing through the internet the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 by granting an interim injunction in favour of Star India Pvt Ltd.                                                                                               

CONTENTIONS OF THE PLAINTIFF

As noted in the order, the Plaintiff’s had made the below submissions/ contentions:

  • That the plaintiffs had acquired exclusive global media rights inclusive of televisions rights, digital rights for numerous ICC events (which includes the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup) from the International Cricket Council. The global media rights were granted to the plaintiff for a period of 2015-2023.
  • That the plaintiff had obtained these exclusive rights only after a payment of a substantial consideration and after duly executing a ‘Media Rights Agreement’ on November 20, 2014.
  • That vide the above mentioned agreement, the plaintiffs possess the exclusive rights to broadcast the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup series along with other ICC events.
  • That as a part of the global media rights of ICC events, the plaintiffs also had exclusive broadcasting rights of the event Vivo IPL 2021. However, the plaintiffs’ right were infringed when the said event was previously broadcasted by the same defendants in fact.
  • That based on the previous repeat telecast of the impugned event by these rogue websites, the plaintiffs apprehend that history will repeat itself for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup as well, which recently commenced from October 17, 2021.
  • That in the case of Star India Pvt Ltd. v/s Jackstreams .Com & Ors[1] the Hon’ble Court had passed an injunction in a similar case against the rogue websites, which included not only those websites immediately known to the Plaintiff but also to the similar websites which might spring up in future and start illegally telecasting the events. In such case, the court had given full authority to the plaintiffs to directly reach out to the DoT to have the infringing sites taken down, rather than having to route all such requests via the Court.
  • That the authority given to the plaintiffs in the abovementioned case to directly reach out to DoT did not serve much purpose as the minimum time period of filing and executing a takedown request of such rogue websites take 3-7 days to be given effect to, and till that time a majority of the sports events have already been broadcasted by the websites.
  • That keeping in mind the ineffectiveness of the order passed in 2020, and the brief duration of the sporting events being broadcasted by the plaintiffs to actuate the takedown request with the DoT, the plaintiffs have requested the court in passing an omnibus direction in futero – thereby protecting interest of the plaintiffs even before such rogue websites are identified or affidavits are filed.

DIRECTION OF THE COURT

In light of the above contentions and the facts and circumstances, the Court passed an ex-parte ad-interim injunction in favour of the plaintiff keeping in mind the irreparable loss which the plaintiffs are bound to face if a strict action is not taken against the impugned rogue websites. With this view, the Court held that:

  • The defendants including those mentioned in the plaint and those which are discovered during the course of the proceedings are restrained from public hosting, reproducing, streaming, broadcasting or making any viewing, downloading any matter related to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup or any other content which the plaintiff holds broadcasting/reproduction rights to.
  • The directors and proprietors of the rogue websites are directed to block access to the websites.
  • In case the plaintiffs come across any infringing websites in future, they are directed to file an affidavit along with the corroborating screenshots and the above-mentioned order would apply to said websites as well.

ANALYSIS

While the above order of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court is indeed more wide comprehensive than earlier interim injunctions granted regarding the subject matter to Star India (in cases such as Star India Pvt Ltd v/s Sajud Hussain[2] & Star India vs Jackstreams .Com[3]), the same still raises questions regarding how to practically tackle the menace of removing LIVE pirated online content, on the day of the match, or those which come up even during the course of a match. It has to be kept in mind that a T20 match typically take around 3 hours only!

In any case, the Hon’ble Court has indeed given due consideration not only to the infringement of the broadcasting and reproduction rights of the plaintiffs but also on the shortcomings of their previous judgments (as mentioned above). The Court has taken note of the extensive and time consuming takedown filing procedure with the DoT even when there is a blatant infringement of the plaintiff’s rights. The ad interim injunction passed by the Court, based on the apprehension of the plaintiff and previous infringements by such rogue websites, is nevertheless indeed a welcome one, and is bound to provide relief and optimism to the plaintiffs who have been struggling to keep such websites under control and protect their rights at the same time. Indeed, it can be said that the recent order of the court is an extension of the concept of dynamic injunctions, which was so well enumerated in the landmark case of UTV Software Communication Ltd. And Ors v. 1337X.TO And Ors[4].

Additionally, for any such future infringements by the websites which might spring up in the future once the events are broadcasted by the plaintiff, the court has made it convenient for the latter by mandating that filing an additional affidavit with the corroborating evidence would suffice the purpose.

As such, the said order is indeed a step in the right direction!

[1] CS(COMM) 394/2020

[2] CS (COMM) 181/2021 dated 16th April, 2021.

[3] CS (COMM) 394/2020 dated 23rd March, 2020

[4] UTV Software Communication Ltd. And Ors v. 1337X.TO And Ors, CS (COMM) 724/2017 & Ors.

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