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India Today copyright case: Telegram reveals identity of users; Delhi HC allows disclosure of information to police

The court in March gave liberty to India Today to inform Telegram in case it comes to know of any more channels sharing its content and directed Telegram to “take necessary steps to delete the channels containing infringing material as expeditiously as possible”

The India Today Group has sued Telegram for trademark and copyright infringement for allegedly sharing content on its channels which is usually behind a paywall. (Representational/Reuters)
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Following the directions of the Delhi High Court in India Today Group’s copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit, the cloud-based messaging app Telegram recently submitted the details of its users’ ‘Basic Subscribers Information’ in a sealed cover before the court.

The India Today Group has sued Telegram for trademark and copyright infringement for allegedly sharing content on its channels which is usually behind a paywall.

The submission was recorded in an order of November 29, wherein a single judge bench of Justice Amit Bansal referred to an October order of the HC where Telegram was directed to submit details of “admins, the phone numbers, and IP addresses of some of the channels” in a copyright suit moved by a teacher alleging that the study material prepared by her for various competitive examinations was being disseminated without authorisation through various Telegram channels.

The October order further directed a copy of the information be provided to the plaintiff (teacher) with a clear direction that neither the “plaintiffs nor their counsel shall disclose the said data to any third party, except for the purposes of the present proceedings”. The order further said that the said information can be disclosed to the police authorities.

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The Delhi High Court was referring to this ruling while hearing a lawsuit of Living Media India Limited (popularly known as the India Today Group) and directed that the information can be disclosed to police authorities.. Living Media India Ltd, however, submitted that certain “details in respect of all the defendants have not been provided”. Telegram argued that representations from the company will be present in court on December 6 to explain this aspect during the next hearing.

India Today has filed a copyright infringement suit against Telegram seeking a permanent injunction. The HC passed the direction after perusing the order passed in the teacher’s lawsuit stating that India Today is entitled to this relief.

In March, Telegram told the court that the offending channels had been deleted by the platform. The HC, however, gave liberty to India Today to inform Telegram in case they come to know of any more channels sharing its content and directed Telegram to “take necessary steps to delete the channels containing infringing material as expeditiously as possible”

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The direction made in October in the teacher’s lawsuit came on the heels of an August 31 decision of Justice Prathiba Singh who rejected Telegram’s argument that it could not disclose user information as that would violate its privacy policy and the laws of the jurisdiction where its physical servers are located. The HC had directed the messaging app to disclose, in a sealed cover, details of the channels and devices used to disseminate content that allegedly infringed copyright, as well as the mobile numbers, IP addresses and email IDs of the users involved.

Justice Singh said in the ruling that the disclosure, on the basis of a court order, of the details of channel operators who are disseminating material that infringe copyright, or of the devices and other gadgets used for the same, could not be shielded under the grounds of protection of privacy or protection of freedom of speech and expression.

Telegram had argued that under its privacy policy, a user’s information could not be disclosed unless a person is declared a terror suspect. “Telegram has its servers based in Singapore which have encrypted data. Accordingly, decryption of that data would not be permissible except as per the laws of Singapore,” its counsel had further argued.

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The court also said that in the age of cloud computing and diminishing national boundaries in data storage, conventional concepts of territoriality could not be strictly applied.

Noting that teachers, and the education system as a whole, have taken great initiatives to ensure that students have access to learning materials online during the Covid-19 pandemic, the court said the protection of copyright must be evolved in accordance with changing times or it would have a chilling effect on the progressive initiatives taken by educators.

The plaintiffs had submitted before the court that though Telegram took down channels disseminating material that infringe on copyright, more and more continue to come up on a daily basis. The court on July 28, 2020 had passed an interim order in the case. Since the order did not prove effective in curbing the unauthorised dissemination, the plaintiffs moved an application seeking disclosure related to the people operating such channels.

First published on: 06-12-2022 at 10:46 IST
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