The Hon’ble High Court of Bombay in response to a commercial suit filed by Hindustan Unilever Limited held that although a domain name may have its registration suspended, the domain name registrar cannot ‘block access’ to that domain name.
The Commercial Suit was filed by Hindustan Unilever Limited, one of India’s largest companies. Hindustan Unilever Limited in the present matter accused several domain names that are registered and have been using variants of HUL’s domain name to register fake and fraudulent domain names and to set up websites. As per the Plaintiff, these domain names registrations were affected through Endurance Domains, GoDaddy or Porkbun.
Agreeing to the fact that these registrations in fact constituted an infringement of the Plaintiff’s statutory rights and were done with mala fide intentions in order to entice and lure unsuspecting public into forgoing significant amounts of money on a completely false promise of being made authorised dealers of HUL products, the Hon’ble High Court held that although a domain name may have its registration suspended, but the domain name registrar cannot ‘block access’ to that domain name.
Justice G.S. Patel further stated that, blocking domain names are instructions under directions of a government agency such as the Department of Telecommunications, issued to internet service providers and hence, a registrar can only be asked to suspend the registration of a particular domain name or a webhost may be ordered to take down a website, which is again not similar to blocking access of a domain name.
Dr. Birendra Saraf, Advocate for Endurance Domains Technology LLP and its domain partner submitted that it was not possible to ‘ensure continued suspensions and block access to these domain names’ and thereby held the ‘continued suspension’ of domain name registration to be technically incorrect. He further pointed out that once the domain name would get released from registration by one domain name registrar, then it will be released worldwide across the entire cyber system and network of the internet meaning that any person can then attempt and will succeed in getting a registration through any other registrar or even the very same registrar by a process that is entirely automated and requires no manual intervention.
Finally, allowing the suspension of certain fake HUL domain names with Endurance Domains as well as GoDaddy and Porkbun, Justice Patel concluded that to include the words “ensure continued suspension of and block access to” will conceivably put the Endurance Domains in a state of being constantly in threat of contempt proceedings. Court noted that a blanket direction for freezing of bank accounts cannot be passed but granted relief for a disclosure of registrant information from Endurance Domains, GoDaddy and Porkbun in respect of the offending registration.
Subsequently, Advocate Tulzapurkar submitted that HUL cannot be expected to constantly make applications every time a new domain name is discovered.
Justice Patel disagreed with the above submission and held the following, “I do not see why not. The Plaintiff is not short of resources and skills, even in the legal department; and the Plaintiff is a well-known and well-established litigant. HUL has more than enough resources, not the least of which is Mr. Tulzapurkar himself. He is always welcome in this Court, so I see no difficulty in allowing him to making repeated applications.”
Further stating that formal interim applications puts a strain on the court’s resources, the Hon’ble High Court agreed to permit HUL to do away with the requirement of filing a formal Interim Application as an exceptional case, provided it is unable to get the negotiated relief that it seeks directly from one of the domain name registrars who are already parties to Suit.
The matter will now come up before regular court.