October 4, 2023
CS (COMM) 678/2023
Court: The High Court of Delhi
This case was filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi by the Plaintiff for copyright infringement, passing off, delivery up, and other reliefs including damages against the known Defendant no. 2 and 6 and the unknown Defendant no. 7- john doe who are allegedly advertising, publishing and offering for sale the garments, which are a complete copy of the Plaintiff’s garments, and are misusing the photographs and images in which the Plaintiff owns rights.
FACTS OF THE CASE
1. The Plaintiff is a manufacturer and retailer of clothing items for men and women and specializes in ethnic wear designed by its in-house designers.
2. It claims to have a sufficient presence even on social media platforms and with a gross turnover of over Rs. 10 Crores for the year 2022-23. It also offers for sale and advertises its goods on various E-Commerce platforms, such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Meesho, with expenditure incurred for the same Rs. 10 Lakh and more.
3. The present suit has been filed against various known and unknown sellers, who are offering to sell garments and ethnic wear by misusing the Plaintiff’s photographs.
ARGUMENTS OF THE PLAINTIFF
1. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants are imitating the products as also copying the identical photographs.
2. That the Defendant is under-pricing the goods so as to cause monetary damage to the Plaintiff. Due to this, the sales of the Plaintiff took a complete nose dive when such similar-looking products with identical photographs started surfacing on the Meesho
3. That the product of the Defendants is claimed to be of lower quality, though it is completely imitative in appearance, to the Plaintiff’s product, hence, putting the Plaintiff’s image under the knife.
4. That also, the Defendants do not disclose the complete address on the invoice, which is generated, making it difficult to trace them because the addresses on the invoice, on the GST platform, and on other E-Commerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Meesho are all different. Additionally, listings in the JustDial also reflect different addresses and most of the addresses are incomplete.
ARGUMENTS OF THE DEFENDANTS
1. Defendant No.1, Meesho, submits that as an intermediary its obligation is to ensure that whenever any URLs are communicated to it of look-alike images and products, the same be taken down upon the order being passed by the Court.
2. Contrary to Petitioner’s submissions, the details of the Defendant sellers are available whenever the products are delivered and also can be verified from the GST platform.
OBSERVATIONS OF THE COURT
After hearing the arguments of both sides the Hon’ble Court made the following observations:
1. There is a clear misuse of Plaintiff’s product images, listing images, and product design
A mere perusal of the comparative chart establishes a case where the known Defendant Nos. 2 – 6 and unknown Defendant No. 7 are completely misusing the Plaintiff’s product images, listing images, and product design in order to monetarily ride on the reputation of the Plaintiff.
Additionally, the lack of visibility of the complete images, in some cases, in the Defendants’ listings, is nothing but an attempt to conceal the copying.
- The sellers do not possess the right to copy Plaintiff’s photographs, images, and product designs.
The Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that the sellers were violating the intellectual property rights of the Plaintiff. The sellers do not have any right to copy the photographs, images, or product design of the Plaintiff in this manner and, hence, cause damage to the Plaintiff.
While E-Commerce provides new platforms for small designers and businesses, the same ought not to be misused for the purposes of imitating and producing look-alike.
- There is an obligation upon E-Commerce platforms to ensure complete details of the sellers and to maintain consistency in the name of the sellers.
For the sake of consumer safety and awareness, there is also an obligation upon the E-Commerce platform to ensure that the complete details of the sellers are available on the platform. This is important so as to ensure that the consumer is aware of the sellers from whom the product has been purchased and the entity, who is listing the product.
As per Section 5 of the Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020, notified on 23rd July 2020, there’s an obligation imposed on the e-commerce platform to “give the full geographic address, customer care number, rating, and other feedback about the seller for enabling consumers to make an informed decision at the pre-purchase stage”.
DIRECTIONS GIVEN BY THE HON’BLE COURT
Keeping in mind the observations made above, the Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that under these circumstances and considering the complete imitation, which has been indulged by the Defendant Nos. 2 – 6, and unknown Defendants, a case for grant of an ex-parte interim injunction has been made out by the Plaintiff.
It is in the interest of consumers that such look-alike products are not permitted to be sold, and since, the balance of convenience is also in favor of the Plaintiff, irreparable harm would be caused if the injunction is not granted.
The following directions were issued in the matter accordingly:
1. The Defendants, and other sellers, who are listing their products on the com platform, are restrained from reproducing, copying, publishing, and imitating any of the designs of the Plaintiff’s clothes, or even reproducing the images including the photographs of the Plaintiff, and also from copying the Plaintiff’s designs, which are extracted above for a comparative illustration as also any other designs/images of the Plaintiff, in respect of its clothing.
2. The Defendant No.1 shall reveal all the available details of the said sellers including the address, mobile numbers, email addresses, total sales made by the sellers, GST details, and payments made to the sellers since the time listings have been put up. Additionally, it shall also ensure that the geographic address of all the sellers is clearly generated with the invoice, which is published on the platform.
3. Interestingly, the Hon’ble court also directed the Defendant No.1- meesho to block the payments (which are to be made to Defendants for sale counterfeit products) till further orders.
Post rightly acknowledging the grievances of the Plaintiff the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi made a successful attempt at preventing any further irreparable harm to the Plaintiff, and also passed directions to correct the wrongs already committed.
Mark Shield was pleased to assist the Plaintiff in this matter.