Domain name registrars are “intermediaries” under the Information Technology Act: Delhi High Court

The Delhi High Court has ruled that domain name registrars are “intermediaries” within the meaning of sec. 2(1)(w) of the Information Technology Act 2000.

Judge C Hari Shankar dealt with a complaint filed by Snapdeal Private Limited regarding the “SNAPDEAL trademark”. Defendants 1-32 were domain name registrars that provide domain names to parties who may seek to register their respective websites under those domain names. Respondent 33 was the Ministry of Telecommunications and Respondent 34 is the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI).

The application alleged that various third parties, with whom the applicant had no connection or association, registered domain names that included the “SNAPDEAL” feed. These domain names were allegedly infringing in nature, as the plaintiff was the registered owner of the trademark “SNAPDEAL”.

It has also been alleged that these third parties, through the websites operating under the said domain names, are engaged in illegal activities, such as providing sweepstakes, etc. and were also, in some cases, posing as customer service centers for the applicant’s products.

The Court therefore formulated the following questions:

– Are DNRs “intermediaries” within the meaning of Article 2(1)(w) of the TI

– (Is the provision of brokerage services, by DNRs, contrary to computer law or otherwise illegal?

– Does the provision of domain names containing “SNAPDEAL” violate the applicant’s trademark rights?

– Is the provision of privacy services by DNRs illegal?

– Are DNRs entitled to the “safe harbour” under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act?

– Isn’t it technologically feasible for DNRs to ensure that future registrants who have logged into DNR websites are not presented with options containing a particular thread or word?

– Would the granting of the remedies requested in the complaint oblige the DNRs to rule on the infringing nature of any domain name available?

– How meritorious is the DNRs assertion that no substantial relief would ensue in favor of the plaintiff, even if prayer were in the complaint to be granted, as there are several hundred DNRs from which Could registered aspirants get domain names containing the word/thread ‘SNAPDEAL’?

– Would granting the remedies sought in the Complaint affect the rights of DNRs or Enrolled Aspirants?

– Is the complaint wrong for failure to join the necessary parties?

– Is the applicant entitled to exemption from a restriction, against DNRs, to provide, in the future, to any aspiring registrant, any domain name containing “SNAPDEAL” as a quia timet relief?

On the first issue, the Court rejected the assertion of the DNRs that they are not “intermediaries” within the meaning of Art. 2(1)(w) of the IT Act.

Reviewing various definitions in the Act, the Court noted that domain names would be considered “electronic records” within the meaning of s. 2(1)

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