As an addition to the recent series of John Doe Orders for protection of films, the Delhi High Court has issued another such order to protect the movie ‘Speedy Singhs’ in 2011. The producers of Speedy Singhs had filed the suit against a few cable operators and against unknown Defendants for a temporary and permanent injunction in order to pre-empt any copyright infringement. The Hon’ble Court has issued the order against all the prospective Defendants, including unidentified persons, restraining them from indulging in piracy and activities such as displaying, releasing, showing, uploading, downloading, exhibiting, playing the movie, etc. The order was to remain in force till December 19, 2011.
‘John Doe’ Orders are mostly seen in the American and Canadian Legal practice. The term ‘John Doe’ indicates a placeholder in legal action and is generally used as a synonym to refer to an individual whose identity is not known to the world at large. The name ‘John Doe’ is used to identify anonymous Defendants, who have allegedly committed some wrong, but whose identity cannot be ascertained by the Plaintiff. These orders can be traced back to the reign of England’s King Edward III (1312–1377), when they were used to refer to unidentifiable Defendants in law. These are representative orders against an unidentifiable class of Defendants, rather than named persons, which allow the goods to be seized. In such orders, once the Defendant(s) are identified, ‘John Doe’ is replaced with the name of the concerned Defendant.
Indian Courts visited the scope of John Doe Orders for the first time in the TEN SPORTS CASE (Taj Television vs. Rajan Mandal 2003) whereby the Commissioner was empowered by the Delhi High Court to enter the premises of any cable operator illegally airing the football World Cup 2002. The Indian version of the order is known as ‘Ashok Kumar’ orders. The High Court of Delhi had also restricted the scope of such orders in the case. The judgment in the case of Indian Performing Right Society Ltd. Vs. Mr. Badal Dhar Chowdhry and Ors (2010) stated that vague/ indefinite injunctions may not be issued and that it can be an abuse of the process of the court and hence, can never be granted. It has also stated that the courts should be extremely cautious in granting such ‘John Doe’ orders and specify the extent of applicability of such orders, the product or article concerned to which it relates to and the steps that can be taken by the aggrieved party to enforce such orders.
John Doe Orders have become quite common in the Indian film industry as an effective way to curb piracy. It is evident from the recent orders of the Delhi High Court in cases such as the movie Singham in July 2011 and the movie Bodyguard in August 2011. However, this trend awaits a Supreme Court Decision to make it a Law of the Land.