Court Orders WhatsApp to Suspend Users Sharing Pirated Movie

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The High Court in Delhi has handed down an interesting order aimed at preventing piracy of the new action movie 'Radhe'. Following an application from Zee Entertainment and parallel criminal referrals, a judge has ordered WhatsApp to suspend allegedly infringing user accounts and take similar action against all other accounts subsequently reported for piracy.

WhatsApp‘Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’ is a new action film directed by Prabhu Deva. Originally scheduled for a May 2020 release, like many others it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With no clear end to the virus in sight, the decision was made to release ‘Radhe’ in India via premium VOD on Zee Plex and digitally through ZEE5 on May 13, 2021. It was immediately pirated.

Last week, Zee Entertainment Enterprises revealed that it had found copies of the movie being circulated online, including via WhatsApp and Telegram.

“Officials are actively tracking down phone numbers involved in the act of piracy and taking required legal action,” the Zee statement read.

“Zee has also appealed to the public at large, seeking their support in bringing an end to piracy, not just for the film ‘Radhe’, but for any kind of content.”

Zee Entertainment Files Complaints

Describing piracy as bad for everyone, Zee reported that it had filed official complaints with cybercrime police in India, one with the Inspector General of Police at the Maharashtra Cyber Digital Crime Unit and another with the Additional Commissioner of Police, Central Region, Cyber Cell.

‘Radhe’ producer Salman Khan also took to Twitter, complaining that despite offering the movie at a reasonable price, it was still being distributed illegally online using various platforms.

“Cyber Cell is taking action against all these illegal pirated sites,” he wrote. “Please don’t participate in piracy or the cyber cell will take action against you as well.”

Zee Entertainment also took its battle to the Delhi High Court, filing an application for interim relief against a number of defendants who either distributed the movie online, including via social media platforms, or helped to facilitate such transfers by providing the means to do so.

One of those defendants is WhatsApp. According to Zee, the pay-TV platform reached out to the Facebook-owned company and provided the telephone numbers of at least eight individuals who allegedly viewed, downloaded and stored the movie on the platform without permission. No response was received.

Citing the terms and conditions of WhatsApp, Zee’s counsel told the court copyright infringement is expressly forbidden and the platform has policies in place to disable and/or terminate infringing accounts. On the basis that the eight users are clearly infringing, WhatsApp should take action against their accounts, Zee argued.

High Court Judge Finds In Favor of Zee

In an order handed down by Justice Sanjeev Narula, the Court found that Zee had established a prima facie case in its favor. The Judge awarded an ex-parte injunction against the eight defendants restraining them from storing, reproducing, communicating, disseminating, circulating, copying, selling, or offering for sale any copies of the film, via WhatsApp or any other means.

Turning to WhatsApp itself, Justice Narula directed the company to suspend the accounts of two of the yet-to-be personally identified users. It also told WhatsApp that when provided with evidence showing that any other WhatsApp user is infringing Zee’s copyrights by selling copies of its film, WhatsApp must suspend the corresponding accounts within 24 hours.

Furthermore, three service providers were also ordered to disclose the contact details of the eight alleged movie pirates to Zee, within 72 hours. The case is scheduled to resume on June 1, 2021.

At this stage it’s unknown whether piracy will be blamed for any future commercial disappointments related to ‘Radhe’. However, with a current rating of just 1.8 following 151,000 reviews on the Internet Movie Database, it’s clear that more fundamental barriers to success are already baked into the product.

Justice Narula’s order can be viewed here (pdf)


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