Data theft has been a recurring issue and a major problem for websites and web-based companies around the world. In a sort of precedent, the Delhi High Court recently ordered the blocking of a website, www.nicelocal.in, operated by Local Search Solutions Pvt Ltd, for stealing data from Indian data mining company Just Dial. The Court order was directed towards the government. The site has been blocked thereafter.
A spokesperson of Just Dial told India Legal that the order was passed by Justice Prathiba M Singh and the directive was issued to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The order was to block the website as well as to suspend all its services. There is also a restraining order against the domain name registrant, not to transfer the domain name.
The court’s interim relief was in the form of restraining the website from advertising any goods or services. It also directed that all data be preserved, including a declaration of the payment received so far from any customers by way of an affidavit. The court also sought a status report from Noida police in the FIR registered against the website and its directors.
The Court’s order (interim relief) came in the wake of a suit filed by Just Dial “seeking permanent injunction restraining data theft, violation of its trademark, copyright, unfair competition, rendition of accounts and other reliefs,” the order stated.
The order also said: “The business of the plaintiff is that of directory services and listing services, also popularly known as a search engine. It also provides various services including Searching Service, Search Plus Services, JD Mart, JD Pay’, JD omni, etc. The plaintiff also has voice services available on ‘8888888888’ which is accessible 24×7 with multilingual support.”
Providing the background, the order also says: “The services of the plaintiff were started in 1996 and over the years the business and the services provided by the plaintiff have expanded. It has a large number of clients who list their products and services on www.justdial.com in order to extend their reach to customers.
“The foundation of the plaintiff’s business is a database consisting of more than 30 million listings and 142 million quarterly unique users across the various platforms such as the web platform, mobile application voice platform, etc. Apart from the basic listings which are freely provided, the plaintiff also provides various paid services. There are stated to be more than 4 lakh paid campaigns as per the plaint.
“The plaintiff collects data related to various products and services from newspapers, visiting cards, pamphlets, magazines, etc by appointing data collectors and ‘join free option’ made available on the Just Dial portal. The validation of such data is also carried out from time to time by plaintiff’s support team to keep the database updated.”
The nature of the complaint is as follows: The defendant (nicelocal.in) is said to have “verbatim lifted thousands of listings, source data code, corporate numbers and other proprietary data of the plaintiff. Over 5,000 listings on the defendants’ website are stated to be containing reference to the plaintiff’s content delivery network path (jdmagicbox) their source code data.” The complaint also said that such data—allegedly lifted verbatim from Just Dial was published on the website www.nicelocal.in.
The senior counsel appearing for Just Dial, D. Krishnan, told the Court that Local Search Solutions Private Limited is a company which runs a local search platform/website by the name www.nicelocal.in. He said that this website provides local search related services to its users.
The complaint also said that “the plaintiff realized a few months ago that the defendant was operating its website www.nicelocal.in by copying large volumes of data from the plaintiff’s website.”
The Court has put on record that: “A perusal of the above instances and various other documents and printouts placed on record shows that the defendants have unabashedly copied the data of the plaintiff. This is a cause of concern to the plaintiff considering the large amount of data relating to their clients and customers is available on their website. The exact modus operandi of the defendants is not yet known to the plaintiff in as much as the investigation in the criminal complaint is still underway.
“…it is clear that there are a large number of innocent persons who may be duped by the defendants who continue to operate the website www.nicelocal.in… In view of the circumstances of the case and the interest of the general public as well, the plaintiff has made out a prima facie case for grant of an ex parte ad-interim injunction…”
-With this, the court restrained the defendant “from providing or advertising any goods or services on their website or utilizing the data belonging to the plaintiff in any manner till the next date of hearing.” The court also restrained the defendants “from collecting any payments from any customers through the platform www.nicelocal.in.”
According to Just Dial, it appears that nicelocal.in has two shareholders, one based in Cyprus and the other based in Russia. It also has a director, who is based in Delhi.
In case a permanent injunction is arrived at, and in case the criminal investigation reveals actual theft, then this judgment can be used as a precedent in the many cases of similar theft that has happened in India in the recent past. These also include password theft and other data that can be used towards greater evil.
—By India Legal Bureau