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The Jurisprudence of John Doe Orders in the Indian and Western Context

John Doe
Image Courtesy – Dan Graf

John doe is a sham name used in English cases to indicate the plaintiff in any legal action to regain a property in civil courts. Richard roe was the name used for the defendants in such cases. Similarly, in India Ashok Kumar was the assumed name given to an anonymous person in cases where the said unknown person infringes the intellectual property rights of the owner. These orders are at times passed prior to the infringement itself, as an injunction remedy to avoid violation of and to protect the intellectual property rights of the creator of artistic works.

The concept was developed by the Court of Queen’s Bench in the United Kingdom in the form of an extraordinary equitable remedy where an injunction order is issued against the unknown defendant, thus allowing the plaintiff to search and seize the premises of the defendant with the intention of preserving the evidence that may be destroyed.

The order gained its importance gradually in the era of Liberalisation, Privatisation, and Globalisation where intellectual property rights were considered to be the most imperative asset that needed to be protected. the order turned out to be one of the expedient forces for justice attainment against the susceptibility of digital piracy and the inability to identify the infringers. The simple idea behind the order is to give protection to the intellectual property rights of the creators/owners when the infringers are unknown, to prevent revenue losses. The order is recognized in various countries like the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, India, etc.

A Brief History of the John Doe Orders

It was during England King Edward III’s reign, that John Doe was first used in an English case EMI Records Ltd. vs. Kudhail. It was a 1983 case that involved copyright infringement of certain cassette tapes by unidentified persons who belonged to an identifiable class and possessed the pirate brand name ‘Oak Records’.

Whereas, in India, the Ashok Kumar order, or the John Doe orders of the west, was first passed on Taj Television and Anr. vs. Rajan Mandal and Ors. The plaintiff was the owner of the exclusive sports channel, Ten Sports, was the authorized registered broadcaster and possessed the broadcast reproduction rights of the World Cup Football, 2002, which had the highest viewership in the world. The plaintiffs suffered huge losses due to unauthorized and unlicensed transmission of its channel. The court had to face the herculean challenge to identify the specific unlicensed cable operator from the pool of thousands of such cable operators in India. And that’s how the first historical order, the John doe/Ashok Kumar order was first passed by the Delhi High Court against unidentified defendants.

The person who is having any apprehension of getting his artistic work copied or published unauthorisedly, can approach the appropriate court and seek to secure the John Doe Order. If the court finds that there is a possibility of unauthorized and unlicensed use of the work which would incur the creator with probable loss, then the court would issue a cease and desist order to protect the creator.

Conditions to pass a John Doe Order

The Indian laws that courts rely on to deal with the orders are Order 39, Rules 1 and 2 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 along with Section 151 of CPC and the provisions of permanent injunctions in the Specific Relief Act, 1963.

  • The plaintiff must establish a prima facie case and that they have a bonafide claim.
  • The plaintiff must establish the possibility of potential or irreparable loss that would occur to him.
  • The balance of convenience should be in favor of the plaintiff.

John Doe Cases in India

ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd vs. Tudu Enterprise and Ors.

The defendants had damaged the right of the plaintiff without entering into any proper contracts and unauthorisedly transmitted network channels of the plaintiff and showed events to their subscribers thereby, causing an infringement of the broadcast reproduction rights of the plaintiff. The court ordered injunction orders against the defendant considering the volume of business, and loss of opportunity and to ensure effective implementation of restriction of misusing the IP rights.

UTV Software Communications Ltd. vs. Home cable Network Ltd and Ors.

In this case, the order was issued against the cable operators who illegally telecasted the pirated version of the films “7 Khoon Maaf”  and “ThankYou” few of them were identified but there were many unidentified operators.

M/s Sandisk Corporation vs. John Doe

Certain unknown persons were selling counterfeit products with identical names, packaging, and logo. The court issued the Order and restrained the unnamed and undisclosed persons arrayed as John Doe from manufacturing, selling, advertising, etc any products bearing the plaintiff’s logo, product name, and packaging.

Ardath Tobacco Company Ltd. vs. Mr. Munna Bhai and Ors.

In this case, an order was passed against the unidentified defendants who were restrained from manufacturing, selling, stocking, or dealing in cigarettes under a label, carton, or packaging material deceptively similar to the label and packaging of the plaintiff.

Laxmikant Patel vs. Chetanbhat Shah and Anr.

The test of confusion and deception in order to prove the case of passing off has been discussed in this case. The Supreme Court held that where there is a probability of confusion in business, an injunction would be granted even though the defendants adopted the name innocently.

Conclusion

Nowadays, within a few hours of a film’s release, the leaked version of the movie is available for download and there is many of news regarding this matter. Even the scripts and movies are leaked for various purposes. There was a case of threats that the producers of Game of Thrones had to face. The hackers asked for a ransom payment otherwise case the show would be released online. These orders are hence, widely helpful for the media industry, for the producers of movies, and for the telecasters and broadcasters to gain protection from the unauthorized use of their works. The Internet Service Providers have been ordered by the court to block the websites that host movies without proper authorization (Gangs of Wasseypur). 

However, India is still facing a huge problem of piracy. The estimated number of pirated DVDs that are sold every year is approx 650 million in comparison to 20 million original published. Somehow, the John Doe orders have played an imperative role in helping filmmakers and broadcasters in preventing damages caused due to unauthorized and unlicensed transmitting and telecasting. But the mechanism is still not aware to many creators which results in huge numbers of piracy in India. 

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