[Viacom 18 vs Rogue Websites] Delhi High Court Restrains Illegal Broadcasting Of IPL

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Court stressed that judicial orders must evolve with digital advancements, to resolve the challenge posed by the dynamic nature of the virtual domain

The Delhi High Court passed directions restraining identified rouge websites from illegally broadcasting the Indian Premier League (IPL) events. Court emphasized the need for the legal framework to evolve in response to digital piracy challenges.

This evolution, according to the bench, is crucial to effectively enforce copyright protections and safeguard owners' rights.

It is thus essential for the legal framework to remain vigilant and responsive to the challenges presented by digital piracy, ensuring that the protections afforded to copyright and intellectual property are not only theoretical but also enforceable and practical in safeguarding the rights and interests of the rightful owners”, the bench of Justice Sanjeev Narula held. 

An application was filed by Viacom 18, seeking injunctions to prevent the illegal dissemination and broadcast of matches during the IPL events against 'identified rogue websites'. Advocate Sidharth Chopra, representing Viacom, emphasized that they had identified several illicit websites primarily hosting illegal and pirated content. Defendants No. 8 to 13 operated as Domain Name Registrars (DNRs) for the domain names associated with these rogue websites. Defendants No. 14 to 20 comprised various internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom service providers. 

In light of past instances where major sporting events were unlawfully disseminated, Viacom strongly anticipated similar occurrences once the IPL events commence. Given the global popularity of these events, it was expected that a significant number of websites would engage in unauthorized transmission and communication of cricket matches and related content on online platforms. Furthermore, Viacom believed that even if certain rogue websites are blocked or taken down, they might reemerge as mirror websites to continue the illicit broadcasting of the IPL events. Consequently, Advocate Sidharth Chopra prayed for a dynamic injunction against such rogue websites.

Court acknowledged “the widespread appeal and significance of the IPL Events, particularly in the Indian subcontinent".

These events are broadcasted through the Plaintiff’s OTT platform ‘JioCinema’, which is accessible across a variety of digital devices including computers, smartphones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets.

Court noted that Viacom had obtained the digital broadcasting rights for these events, as stipulated in the agreement, through significant financial investment. “Unauthorized dissemination, telecasting, or broadcasting of these events on various websites and digital platforms poses a significant threat to the Plaintiff’s revenue streams. Such illicit activities undermine the value of the considerable investment made by the Plaintiff in acquiring these rights”, the bench added.

Moreover, the bench highlighted that the broadcast content, including footage, commentary, and other composite elements, was fully protected under the Copyright Act of 1957. Therefore, it held that the unauthorized utilization of these elements not only impacts financial returns but also violates the copyright protections afforded to the broadcast content.

Court underscored the need to recognize the legal rights associated with the creation and dissemination of this content, emphasizing the necessity for strict measures to prevent unauthorized broadcasts and safeguard Viacom’s interests.

The issue of rogue websites engaging in the piracy of copyrighted content presents a recurring threat, especially with the imminent IPL Events”, Court continued.

"These websites have demonstrated a tendency to unlawfully broadcast copyrighted works, underscoring the need to proactively block their access to such content," court noted. 

Subsequently, the court observed that judicial intervention was essential to prevent these unauthorized websites from distributing or broadcasting any portions of the cricket matches/IPL Events without proper authorization or licensing from Viacom.

Court noted that Viacom had established a prima facie case for the issuance of an interim injunction and therefore issued the following directions:

Any person acting on their behalf (rogue websites) are restrained from communicating, hosting, streaming, screening, disseminating or making available for viewing/ downloading, without authorization, any part of the IPL Events on any electronic or digital platform in any manner whatsoever… During the currency of the IPL Events, if any further websites are discovered which are illegally streaming and communicating content over which the Plaintiff has rights, the Plaintiff is given liberty to communicate the details of such websites to the DoT and MeitY for issuance of blocking orders, and simultaneously to the ISPs for blocking the said websites, so as to ensure that these websites can be blocked on a real time basis there is no considerable delay”.

Court listed the matter on August 22, 2024 for further consideration.

Case Title: Viacom 18 Media Private Limited v John Doe & Ors. (CS(COMM) 254/2024)