WHAT IS JOHN DOE?
While filing any suit, it is imperative to provide name and address of the defendant so that after issuing notice, it should reach them. But what would happen if you do not know the place of origin of a crime and are also not aware about the defendants? Before answering to this question, let’s us imagine that Avengers Endgame releases and you are the loyal fan of the Avenger Series all these years and desire it to be worldwide blockbuster and breaks all records. However, various movie sharing websites provide its pirated version on their website and make it available for free. A single pirated version can create domino effect and hence a chain reaction of piracy starts. Now against whom will the Production House will lodge a complaint or file a suit for damages? In this scenario, John Doe Orders are sought after in global context especially for production house for protection of their Intellectual Property rights against infringement.
What is John Doe Orders and its Origin
As per Oxford Dictionary. John doe means an anonymous party, typically the plaintiff, in a legal action.
Since there are many theories for ‘John Doe ’origin, However it is certain that the word came into existence in the mid of 1600 century since Oxford English Dictionary editors have revealed that they found it in a work of 1659.
It was used in complicated legal processes and called out for an action of ejectment, wherein a wrongfully dispossessed owner used to bring a suit to get his land back. For mysterious legal reasons, landowners who wanted to establish their rightful claims first used to file ejectment action. In order to find rightful ownership, the court used to look first whether the person was the owner or not of the said land and then other process used to be followed. At that time John Doe used for Plaintiff and Richard Doe for Defendant.
Meaning of John doe orders- In Indian Scenario
So, John Doe orders are ex-parte injunctions orders against unknown defendants to restrain them from doing infringing acts. In India, we have been given name “Ashok Kumar” equivalent to “John Doe” for filing claim against unknown persons.
In India, these orders are most of the times passed by the Courts in suits related to copy right and trademark infringement, online piracy, personal privacy and confidential information.
John Doe Orders are passed by the Indian Courts on fulfilling certain conditions. The Plaintiff is required to show prima facie case, actual or potential damages. In India. First John Doe Order was passed by Delhi High Court in Taj Television Vs Rajan Mandal while invoking its power granted under Section 151 of the code of Civil Procedure.
Later, the Bombay High Court in Red Chillies Entertainments Private Limited v. Hathway Cable & Datacom Limited & ors an order was passed against any person restraining them from broadcasting, distributing or Telecasting any pirated version or otherwise make copy or print available to public the move “Happy New Year” which would infringe the copyright of the Plaintiff.
Due to uncontrolled piracy and short life-span of movie, producers approach the Court for seeking John doe orders against the infringers. For example, Film makers of 7 Khoon Maaf and Thank You got a John doe order from the Court against unknown cable operators.
A drastic change came in the case of Reliance Big Entertainment Private Limited v Jyoti Cable Networks and Ors, wherein an John Doe order was passed by the Court for movie ‘Singham’ and directions were issued directing ISPs to block infringing websites.
After that similar orders were granted for several other movies such as Bodyguard, Kahaani, Blood Money, OMG, Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2, Special 26, Dhoom 3, Udta Punjab, Sultan.
John Doe/Ashok Kumar orders came into existence as protective shields to safeguard copyright victims from anonymous offenders. But as of now they are being used as swords against the websites and other media. Film makers in a fashion and for publicity approach Courts with alleging that the websites have infringed their copy right and the Courts without verifying if the URLs are actually infringing in nature or not grant the John Doe orders. This position is now being criticized by activists who see this as a violation of internet freedom.
However recently, Bombay High Court refused to grant injunction for the movie Dishoom wherein order was sought on basis of unproven list of websites and URLs. After filing modification application Court was pleased to pass orders but again provided some guidelines before issuing John Doe orders. The link provided below is significant to understand the Bombay High Court Judgment in easy language. https://spicyip.com/2016/07/bombay-hc-effectively-transforms-john-does-from-swords-to-shields-delineates-most-robust-safeguards-to-date.html
Hence, in other words A John Doe order is to be issued while keeping in mind the interests of production houses, website owners and general public. It is a shield and not a sword.