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Indian `John Doe' sued

Kripa Raman

HC admits IT firm Integrix case against defamatory e-mail sender


Unnamed defendants
The number one defendant is an e-mail address: ashokintegrix@yahoo.co.in.
Integrix allowed to sue an IP address number.
The actual allottee of the IP Address is the equivalent of John Doe.

Mumbai , March 28

The Delhi High Court has admitted a petition introducing for the first time in Indian jurisprudence the equivalent of the American concept of `John Doe' in information technology related litigation.

Early this month it allowed IT networking solutions company Integrix (India) Pvt Ltd to sue a person in his unknown identity.

Integrix went to court saying its employees had received anonymous e-mails which it said were defamatory and damaging to the company and its directors.

The number one defendant in this case is ashokintegrix@yahoo.co.in, the e-mail address from where the offending mails were received. The others sued are yahoo.co.in (e-mail service provider) and Bharti Infotel (network/internet service provider).

What is significant, say cyberlaw experts, is that the plaintiff has been allowed to sue an IP address number - in this case `IP address number 61.246.153.106, C/o Bharti Infotel' as well as `Actual Allottee/user of the same IP address, Son of Unknown, C/o Bharti Infotel'.

The actual allottee of the IP Address is the equivalent of John Doe.

"I have never come across, in India, a defendant who is unnamed. If the Court actually passes an order that is enforced then that would be very significant in Indian jurisprudence," said Mr Lekhesh Dholakia, legal counsel for Internet & Mobile Association of India.

The John Doe concept is popular in the US where victims of cyberstalking or defamation file lawsuits against "John Does".

With the help of the courts they seek to obtain discovery from the Internet Service Providers/Network Service Providers of the true identity of the John Does who have been sued.

The DHC in this case has issued notices to Yahoo.co.in (Yahoo! India Web Services Ltd) as well as to broadband services provider Bharti Infotel not to delete the log in respect of the e-mails forming the subject matter of the suit, as well as to block the IP address in question.

Litigation has so far been handicapped by the absence of identity of the person sued, and how this case proceeds could set a precedent for other cyberlaw cases in India, according to cyberlaw experts.

The case is important also because it is getting increasingly difficult to get FIRs registered in cybercrime cells of the police, they said. Unsolved crimes reflect badly on the officer-in-charge and the police can make things so difficult that many of the aggrieved just give up the idea.

"This case is a great step forward; it establishes the right of the affected to zero down on the person actually doing the act," said Mr Pavan Duggal, counsel for the plaintiff, who would not discuss the case further.

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