“If you create something and then someone takes it without your permission that is stealing. It may sound harsh, but it is true.” – Artist Mary J. Blige.
India has always been a place where you can access torrent websites easily and freely. Last year, the Indian Government took a strict stand against piracy and objectionable activities in the country and banned over 800 pornographic websites that were “found to be spreading anti-social activities” in the country. After backlash from users, the Government had partially lifted the ban from some of those websites a week later.
In the last couple of years Internet Service Providers, probably at the request of Department of Telecommunications, have invested lot more in strengthening the mechanism through which they block websites. Department of Telecommunications too, instead of relying on Internet Service Providers, has started bring into play the big companies like Tata Communications and Airtel that manage a number of internet gateways in India.
Recently this year in August, the Bombay High Court directed Internet Service Providers to block several URLs on a plea by producers of the film Dishoom against piracy and to place an ‘error message’ on the blocked sites as a measure to ensure genuine e-commerce sites are not affected, after that a message started appearing on certain blocked URLs, which stated that viewing, downloading or duplicating copyright content could result in a three-year prison term and a fine of Rs.3 lakhs. The message reads:
“This URL has been blocked under the instructions of the Competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, including but not limited to under Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957 which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of upto Rs. 3,00,000/-. Any person aggrieved by any such blocking of this URL may contact at email@example.com who will, within 48 hours, provide you the details of relevant proceedings under which you can approach the relevant High Court or Authority for redressal of your grievance.”
The idea is to inform Internet Viewers that downloading a pirated film is illegal and has legal consequences. However, it seems that Tata Communications slipped while putting an “error massage” that states that Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents is an offence as “viewing does not fall within the ambit of a criminal offence.”
Multiple reports in media incorrectly suggested that merely visiting these blocked websites would result in the penalty. But recently the Bombay High Court has said it is inaccurate to suggest that merely viewing an illicit copy of a film is a punishable offence under the Copyright Act. Justice Gautam Patel has said that the offence is not in viewing, but in making a prejudicial distribution, a public exhibition or letting for sale or hire without appropriate permission copyright-protected material.
He asked Internet Service Providers to drop the line “viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating’ a particular film is a penal offence” from the error message. The Bombay High Court ordered Internet Service Providers to put up a more generic message along with details of a nodal officer that users can contact to address grievances. The message must include, “Infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content including under this URL is an offence in law. Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957, read with Section 51, prescribe penalties of a prison term of up to 3 years and a fine of up to Rs 3 lakhs.”
This means that no one can be penalised for merely visiting or viewing pirated movies online on a blocked torrent website. However there is penal consequence for illegal downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an artistic work without permission.
The Indian Lawyer