In a petition filed by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., Delhi High Court ordered WhatsApp and similar social media platforms to suspend accounts involved in illegal circulation and storage of Salman Khan's Film "Radhe: You Most Wanted Bhai”.
The matter was heard by a single member bench comprising Justice Sanjeev Narula.
Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. is the exclusive licensee and holds exploitative rights in the movie. The movie was released on the online streaming service ("Zee5") of the petitioner on 13th May 2021on a pay per view basis.
It is the case of the petitioner that soon after the release of the movie on the streaming platform, pirated copies of the film and video clips from the movie began to be circulated on messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
The petitioner submitted that on 14th May 2021, a complaint was registered with the Inspector General of Police, Maharashtra Cyber Digital Crime Unit, under the Copyright Act, 1957 against unknown persons, including some of the defendants. It was also submitted that the petitioner had reached out to WhatsApp and informed them about the numbers from which the pirated material was being circulated. But the petitioners alleged that no reply was received from WhatsApp.
The petition also adds Defendant No. 13 as 'Ashok Kumar' (a practice similar to the use of the term 'John Doe' in copyright cases in the US) in order so that the order by the court will be effective against all unidentified infringers of the petitioner’s copyright.
Senior Advocate Amit Sibal appearing for the petitioner, argued that the circulation and storage of the pirated copies on social media infringe the petitioner's copyright under Section 51(a)(i) of the Copyright Act, 1957. The counsel also submitted several screenshots of WhatsApp messages which allegedly infringes the petitioner’s copyright.
The counsel for the petitioner also quoted WhatsApp's Terms of Service to argue that the circulation of the video clips and pirated copies of the movie violates these terms.
The Telecom Service Providers for the alleged infringers are also impleaded as defendants in the petition along with eight identified infringers and WhatsApp.
On consideration of the screenshots, the court concluded that the alleged infringers are not only circulating but are also selling the pirated copies through the messaging platforms.
The court observed that:
“…. the Plaintiff has established a prima facie case in its favour. The balance of convenience also lies in favour of the Plaintiff, and an irreparable loss would be caused to the Plaintiff in case an ex-parte interim injunction is not granted. Accordingly, till the next date of hearing, Defendant Nos. 1 to 8 and 13, their servants, agents, legal representatives, heirs and any other person acting for or on their behalf are restrained from unauthorisedly storing, reproducing, communicating, disseminating, circulating, copying, selling, offering for sale or making available copies of the film or any other portion thereof, through WhatsApp or any other means or modes, that may infringe the Plaintiff’s copyright in the film.”
It was further ordered that:
“Further, the Defendant No. 9, is directed to forthwith suspend the WhatsApp accounts of Defendant Nos. 4 and 8 to ensure that the said Defendants cease the infringement of the Plaintiff’s copyright on WhatsApp. It is further directed that in the event the Plaintiff brings to the notice of Defendant No. 9, that any other WhatsApp account is being used for the purpose of selling infringing copies of the film, the Defendant No. 9 shall as expeditiously as possible, and not later than 24 hours from the receipt of the request from the Plaintiff, suspend such accounts.”
The court also ordered the Telecom Service Providers to disclose the details of the infringers registered with them within three days so that further action can be taken against them.