A recent interim order passed by the Delhi High Court in the matter of PVR Ltd. vs Just Dial Ltd may have grave implications for the business model followed by most aggregation platforms. Deep-linking, framing and content extraction practices undertaken typically by content aggregators may land them in to trouble.
The way content aggregation platforms (take for e.g., a hotel aggregation portal) typically work is that they gather information about a particular subject from different sources from the web (such as hotel websites, travel website, etc), aggregate such information in a format which appeal to their consumer base (often done through a technique called framing wherein multiple webpage are displayed as separate windows on a single webpage) and in many instances help the consumer make an informed choice by navigating directly to the source from which they want to procure desired goods/services/information through deep-links (hyper-link for the relevant web-page on the vendor’s platform).
The current suit by PVR Ltd. (a cinema hall operator) questions the legality of various aspects of this business model including – the practice of deep linking, framing and extraction of factual information of various vendors on the platform of content aggregators.
JustDial.com (“JustDial”) is an online information directory which apart from listing details of vendors also facilitates the booking of products and services offered by said vendors through deep-links (i.e. providing the hyper-link for the relevant web-page on the vendor’s platform) and framing (i.e. presentation of several web-pages on a single web-page through multiple non-overlapping windows).
Just Dial had a non-exclusive commercial arrangement with PVR cinemas which allowed users to book tickets for movies being played at PVR cinemas through the use of PVR’s ticketing software from the JustDial platform. This arrangement terminated in 2018.
Despite the termination of its commercial understanding with PVR, JustDial continued to not only list the schedule of movies being played at PVR but also offered its customers the option of booking tickets for such movies. It was able to do so by deep-linking the JustDial website to platforms with whom PVR had an on-going commercial arrangement, such as PayTM and Bookmyshow.
For the above practices, PVR has sued JustDial for trademark and copyright infringement and passing off. PVR claims-
- JustDial by unauthorizedly using PVR’s trademark, photographs of PVR’s cinemas and schedule of movies being played at PVR theatres on its website has given the public the impression that it has an association/connection/nexus with PVR. JustDial is thus riding of PVR’s goodwill;
- JustDial is using meta-tags of PVR;
- Users by making use of JustDial’s webpage can by-pass the PVR website. JustDial is thus popularising its website at the expense of PVR.
The Delhi High Court held that PVR had made a prima facie case of infringement and passing off. JustDial was therefore injuncted from using the registered mark PVR or any deceptive variant thereof in respect of meta-tags in any manner whatsoever.
Through its decision in the present case, the Court is likely to examine the legality of-
- Deep Linking;
- Framing; and
- Use by content aggregator of facts available in the public domain;
In short, all aspects critical to the business models of on-line aggregators. The court’s decision on these aspects will impact other players as well. For instance, framing is a practice regularly deployed by search engines such as Google Images to display search results. Similarly, it may have an impact on the ability of ordinary netizens to post hyperlinks to proprietary content in their public posts (you might need to think twice before tweeting a link…).
The matter will next be heard on 21 May 2019.
Authored by Tanya Sadana, Senior Associate with inputs from Anirudh Rastogi, Managing Partner at Ikigai Law.