Delhi High Court orders Hotmail to ID 'charitable' emailer

India

Justice C K Mahajan of the Delhi High Court has issued an interim injunction in a civil suit (Case 392/2004) to restrain an unidentified defendant from claiming any kind of association with or endorsement from India's largest business conglomerate, the Tata group. The court also directed the email service provider MSN Hotmail to furnish it with registration details for the email account '[email protected]' within a fortnight.

This email account was the source of a chain email campaign that purported to be from a non-governmental organization working with labourers to treat cancer in Karnataka. The email falsely claimed the support and sponsorship of the Tata group in what appeared to be an attempt to take advantage of the group's well-earned reputation for corporate good citizenship and social responsibility.

As well as issuing orders restraining the unidentified user(s) from sending chain emails, seeking to raise funds and falsely claiming the support and sponsorship of the group, the court also directed Hotmail to preserve all electronic, computerized and computer-produced data, in any form, in relation to the messages sent from the address.

The court took this unprecedented step in response to the complaint filed by Tata, which established a prima facie case in which the balance of convenience was in its favour. The court noted that if interim orders were not passed, the purpose of Tata's suit would be rendered invalid.

Referring to some Canadian and US court orders, the Delhi High Court pointed out that irreparable injury would be caused to Tata if the requested injunction were not granted immediately. The court noted the need to "pierce the veil of anonymity" and directed Hotmail to provide the names and other details of the person operating the email address. The interim orders will be valid until the next hearing, which is due to be held on July 8.

Subramaniam Vutha, Subramaniam Vutha & Associates, Mumbai

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