On July 7th, a single-judge Bench of Bombay High Court passed a unique order in a case involving domain name dispute. This case is important for the reason that it is the first time that a Court in India has defined ‘meta-tagging’ and also held that it is not necessary for the plaintiffs to seek leave under Clause XIV of the Letters Patent where the website is interactive in nature.
The plaintiff, People Interactive (I) Pvt. Ltd., was the registered proprietor of the trademarks ‘shaadi.com’ and ‘shadi.com’ and was carrying on the business of providing matrimonial services in India and abroad. The 1st defendant in this case was Gaurav Jerry who was carrying on a rival service under the domain name ‘ShaadiHiShaadi.com’.
The plaintiff moved a notice of motion (interim application) in the Bombay HC seeking to restrain the defendant from using the domain name ShaadiHiShaadi.com or any word/expression which would be confusingly similar to plaintiff’s own registered domain name; the plaintiff alleged that the defendant was trying to pass off his website as that of the plaintiff’s. It was further prayed that the other defendant in this case ‘Go Daddy’ be restrained from hosting the domain name ShaadiHiShaadi.com and to de-register the same.
The order was passed ex-parte.
The Court found that the plaintiff’s online property had gained significant reputation and goodwill and that its domain was well-known among the subscribers and in the public.
The Court found that the defendant was using the tagline ‘World’s Biggest Matrimonial Service’ on his website ShaadiHiShaadi.com which was almost identical to the tagline ‘World’s Largest Matrimonial Service’ that was being used by the plaintiff on Shaadi.com. The Court held that the defendant’s tagline was deceptively similar to that of the plaintiff’s and that the claim by the defendants that they were the “world’s largest matrimonial service” had no factual basis and amounted to puffery.
Next, the Court accepted the plaintiff’s contention that the defendant had been using the plaintiff’s registered trademark shaadi.com and the plaintiff’s registered domain name http://www.shaadi.com as meta-tags in his domain name ShaadiHiShaadi.com.
Interestingly, ‘meta-tags’ which hitherto had not been defined in any Indian case were defined for the first time in the instant case.
Meta-tags being special lines of code are embedded in web-pages and are often used by search engines in deciding the relevant websites to show in a search result. Meta-tags are basically keywords- when a person types a particular keyword on a search engine, the search engine matches the keyword entered by the person with the meta-tags of various web-pages and accordingly displays the most relevant results. One can easily manipulate search engine results by altering the meta-tags on his web-page.
The Court found that the defendant had diverted as much as 10.33% of the internet traffic away from http://www.shaadi.com to his own domain name. Terming the defendant’s conduct in this regard as ‘online piracy’, the Court held:
“There could be no better evidence of passing off, confusion and deception. This is, plainly, hijacking the Plaintiffs’ reputation and goodwill and riding piggyback on the Plaintiffs’ valuable intellectual property.”
Accordingly, the Court granted interim injunction in favour of the plaintiff.
A noteworthy aspect of the order is that the Court observed that the plaintiff need not have sought leave of the Court under Clause XIV of the Letters Patent- In the opinion of the Court, the website was interactive in nature and globally accessible, therefore, an action for passing off and infringement would lie in the Court even without such leave.
(The question of ‘jurisdiction of Indian Courts in matters where the cause of action lies on the World Wide Web’ was dealt with extensively by the Delhi HC in Banyan Tree case, where the Court made a distinction between interactive and passive websites. Kruttika has blogged about it here.)