Did Askme.in infringe on Just Dial’s copyright?

By : |January 31, 2010 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: The recent judicial order by the Delhi High Court in the intellectual property rights case between Just Dial and Askme.in, restraining Askme.in from infringing Just Dial’s copyright, has thrown up a major legal question about intellectual property and also the laws pertaining to the same in the changing scenario with the advent of the online media.

The case is that Askme.in has allegedly used a directory of telephone numbers originally compiled by Mumbai-based local search engine JustDial.com, which has a pan-India presence.

This dial up firm provides telephone numbers of business establishments, products, service providers etc in different cities. Askme, owned by Infomedia 18 Limited, is also into a similar business.

According to Koora Srinivas, senior vice president JustDial.com, this is a clear case of data theft and it comes under cyber crime as also the infringement of intellectual property.

“We have put nearly 15 years of efforts in collecting the data which someone else has stolen overnight for their site. Whatever data we have is the result of hard work and it was utterly shocking for us to know that it has been hijacked by someone. That’s why we filed the case on January 29 and the Delhi High Court issued the injunction order on January 30.”

According to him the court injunction is a significant victory for Just Dial. The next hearing in the case is in March.

Even since the court order the Askme.in website has gone offline.

When this was pointed out to Bangalore-based senior advocate A.N.Sastry, he said a court would not ask a company to shut down its website on case of data theft, since there are many social and legal implications to that. “When a website is ordered to close down, many issues like the employee interests, investors etc have to be taken into consideration,” he added.

However, if it is proved that the said website has stolen data from the other website, the court can impose a fine of up to Rs two lakh, imprisonment, or both, Sastry said.

But, in such cases it is difficult to prove the alleged theft, as the case has different aspects. First of all the data appearing on both the sites are details like telephone number and address, of which the copyright does not belong to a particular company. So whether this issue would come under data theft is doubtful.

However, Srinivas said the commissioners appointed by the Delhi High Court searched the offices of Askme and got some incriminating evidences regarding data theft from their CPUs, compact, floppy discs and/or other storage media.

“Following this, their data was sealed by the commissioners and hence the site has gone offline,” he said. “The court has realized that someone cannot steal someone else’s data like that.”

Just Dial had pointed out that there were identical spelling mistakes in the database of both the sites, which the court was convinced of as the new site has come into existence only a few weeks back, while Just Dial has been in the industry for a long time.

Data theft a serious issue

According to Srinivas, data theft is a serious issue in India. “It is time for the media to take up the issue seriously,” he said. Though cyber law is in its early stage in India, over the last few years, it has started getting strength, he observed.

However, when contacted, Infomedia 18 Limited’s Company Secretary Yug Samrat said the decision to go offline was taken by the company alone as the case is in the court and Askme abides by the court order in the case. However, it is premature to make any comment since the case is under the consideration of the court, he added.

“This has come as a shock for us and we are not in a position to comment. Since the case in under the consideration of the court, it is premature to say anything at this point of time. There are certain allegations and we will soon clarify our side very soon,” said Samrat.

The case has thrown up some serious issues – does this case come under the purview of cyber crime? If it is proved that Askme.in has stolen data from Just Dial? And will that result in the closure of the site and in that case what would be the future of the employees, who would be victimized for no wrong of theirs?

And finally the perennial question – Is it time to add further teeth to the legal system to handle data theft in the online industry, which has become serious issue related to intellectual property?

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