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Are Privacy Protected Services Leaving IPR Holders Unprotected?

Through the present case in the Delhi High Court, the plaintiff Dabur India sought a permanent injunction against 'imposter', anonymous names who were registrants of domains and websites, with the famous name of 'Dabur'. These entities were falsely representing themselves as authorized franchisee dealers and distributors of the very well-known, Dabur Private Limited. They were insanely deceptive and misused not only the brand logo but also the contact details and email address of the plaintiff.

Factual Matrix of The Case
Dabur India Ltd filed a case in the Delhi High Court, seeking a permanent injunction against various domain names containing the 'DABUR' trademark. The mark was used by numerous websites impersonating the plaintiff. Fraudulent websites including https://wdaburdistributor.com , and https://daburdistributorships.in[1] represented themselves to be the owner or the plaintiff and sought commerce on this very basis for long. Some of them also called upon people to get themselves registered as agents, or for such franchisee or dealership offers so that they could sell authorized "Dabur" products.

Contentions of the Petitioner
  • Coined in 1884, the mark DABUR has now not only become a well-known brand but also a household name in India. It manufactures markets and sells a variety of products, including pharmaceuticals, toiletries, food products, etc. It is one of the most popular Ayurvedic medicines and healthcare companies in the world, with its products confined not only to India, but exported worldwide. This is one prominent reason for its well-garnered reputation.
     
  • In order to gain undue advantage and deceive the public in the name of Dabur, numerous domains were created with similar names, inviting applications for being authorized dealers or franchisee holders of DABUR India. Some also went too far by charging a massive sum of Rs. 25,000.
     
  • These websites contain images of the plaintiff's products, the brand logo as well as the legend. Not only this, they also have a 'Contact Us' tab that redirects the user to the registered authorized office address and business email of Dabur India. This falsely indicates a prima facie legitimate association with Dabur India Ltd.

Ruling of the Court
  • Apart from the trademark rights of Dabur India being infringed, the public was also being deceived due to the operation and working of such fake domains. This gave rise to mistrust and customer confusion and also to the likelihood of miscommunication.
     
  • The attempt made by these masked domains was not merely to pass off but to completely represent the plaintiff on the internet and hence it mustn't be allowed to remain hereon.
     
  • The judgment of UTV Software Communications Ltd and Ord v. 1337X and Ors was also cited[2]. The court, in this case, had directed the Meity [Ministry of electronics and information technology] to frame an algorithm by which a user would be warned via pop-ups or emails that they are viewing pirated or infringing content. If the user continued to access such content even after being warned, a fine would be levied upon them for not heeding the same.
     
  • The court thus granted an ex-parte injunction to the plaintiff in view of this and ordered the domain registrars to immediately block these fraudulent websites.

Author's Analysis
Learned Justice Pratibha M. Singh apart from granting a temporary injunction, went on to question these registrar services that permitted domain registrants to hide or redact their details.

Multiple formative domain names had been registered with the sole purpose and motive of cheating and falsely representing the public, making them believe that they are the plaintiff and offering them fake franchisee and distributor services.

The plaintiff had been compelled to seek a John Doe order[3] or a pre-infringement injunction because the registrar companies completely blanket-masked these third-party registrants and hence, they could not be properly impleaded in the present suit.

Because these organizations allow third-party entities to avail 'privacy protect services', a significant surge in registration impinging upon the trademark rights of legitimate brands and their holders is seen. Such adherence and due compliance by domain registrars have opened floodgates to unscrupulous cyber squatters propagating fraudulent practices and hurting the goodwill and reputation of well-known established brands.

End-Notes:
  1. https://thepalaw.com/trademark/case-note-dabur-india-limited-v-ashok-kumar-ors/
  2. https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pms14092022sc1352022165629-435188.pdf
  3. A John Doe Order- The name 'John Doe' or in the Indian context, 'Ashok Kumar' is used to represent unidentified anonymous infringers. Hence, when the defendant is unknown and his identity hidden, the Court may grant a John Doe Order against the defendant in order to prevent further infringement of plaintiff rights.

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