Courts cannot provide permanent protection against cyber fraud: Bombay HC to HUL

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Mumbai: A single bench of the Bombay high court (HC) has expressed its inability to provide permanent protection to companies such as Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) from fraudulent websites that use deceptive or misleading domain names to dupe unsuspecting consumers of reputed brands.

“Eternal vigilance is not just the price of liberty; it is also the cost of doing large-volume businesses,” stated the bench of Justice Gautam Patel.

The judge, in his 16-page order, also explained that though it is “trivial” to get a domain name registered on the worldwide web, it is extremely difficult to ensure its permanent suspension.

“One has to look up the availability of a combination of words and choose a desired top-level or other domain (.in, .com, .net, etc),” said Justice Patel.

“The process of registration is automated and requires no manual intervention,” he added.

Justice Patel held that it was not possible for permanent suspension of such domain names because the registration is applicable only for a stipulated timeframe.

The court also pointed out that blocking access to websites could be circumvented by using a commonly available Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to another network and all stringent restrictions could be easily bypassed.

Justice Patel, however, expressed his doubt about the popularity of VPN among users, even though the application is now available on all smartphone platforms.

He concluded that “blocking access achieves next to nothing” and didn’t want “to lull an applicant into a hollow and faux sense of safety”.

Justice Patel suggested that HUL should take up the matter with the domain name registrars concerned for suspending the offender, and could move a fresh plea in the HC, if the matter is still unresolved.

Earlier, HUL had moved court, seeking orders for suspending and blocking several websites and e-mail addresses using its generic name or it’s deceptively similar variants.

The company had filed the case after it noticed that its name was fraudulently used for duping unsuspecting consumers by fake dealers of HUL products.

Some consumers were duped over Rs 70 lakh by a fraudulent website.

The court observed that the registration of these domain names was mala fide and an infringement of HUL’s statutory and common law rights.

However, the bench rejected HUL’s other plea, urging the court to find a suitable mechanism and pass orders to deal with fraudulent domain names, websites, and e-mail addresses that might cause damage to the company’s business prospects.

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