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July 15, 2020

Domain Name Registrars Cannot Block Access To Or Ensure The Continued Suspension Of Domain Names

Author: Sunidhi Bansal

In the matter of Hindustan Unilever Limited v. Endurance Domains Technology LLP & Ors [IA No. 1 of 2020 in LC-VC-GSP-24 of 2020], the Bombay High Court, vide its order dated June 12, 2020, held that Domain Name Registrars can merely suspend the registration of domain names, but cannot block access to or ensure their continued suspension.

The Plaintiff claimed to be the registered proprietor of a number of trademarks covering a range of products, and of the domain names www.hul.co.in and www.unilever.com.

The suit was filed in relation to certain domain names which were, as alleged by the Plaintiff, fraudulently using variants of the Plaintiff’s domain name. Domain Name Registrars viz. Endurance Domains Technology LLP, GoDaddy LLC and Porkbun LLC were also added as Defendants.

The Court agreed that the registration of the aforementioned domain names, prima facie, constitutes an infringement of the Plaintiff’s rights.

While adjudicating on the forms of interim relief prayed, inter alia, continued suspension and blocking of the infringing domain names by the Domain Name Registrars and a dynamic injunction, the Court observed that the process of domain name registration is a fully automated one and requires no manual/human intervention on part of the Domain Name Registrars. The Court further observed that the Domain Name Registrars cannot ‘block access’ to a domain name, which is usually done under directions of a government agency, issued to internet service providers.

Partially granting the interim relief prayed, the Court held that “ …a domain name may have its registration suspended, but the domain name registrar cannot ‘block access’ to that domain name. …the entire process of registration itself is entirely automated and machine-driven. No domain name registrar can put any domain names on a black list or a block list. The notion that domain name registrar’s have a person or a team of persons scanning and checking every domain name application betrays a wholesale lack of understanding of how domain name registration actually works…..A ‘continued suspension’ is…not possible or practicable at least in the current technology…it is therefore not possible to allow the prayer clause…to include the words ‘ensure continued suspension of and block access to’.”

The Court denied grant of a dynamic injunction and held that “…for the technical reasons I have outlined above, it is not possible to pass an order granting an injunction operating either dynamically or otherwise in future in this fashion. The very technology behind domain name registration does not permit this.”

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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