Last month many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cracked down on several piracy websites following the directives of the government. While ISPs blocking certain URLs isn t a new phenomenon, what raised many eyebrows was an ambiguous message that was displayed on these blocked pirate content. The message suggested that watching pirated content online could lead to a three-year jail term and a fine of Rs 3 lakh. The Bombay High Court has now made it clear that one cannot be penalized for watching pirated content on the web. The court also clarified that selling copyright-protected material without necessary permission or public exhibition of such material would be punishable. The court has now asked the ISPs to drop the controversial and confusing line “‘viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating’ a particular film is a penal offence” from the ‘error message’ on blocked URLs. Also Read - Internet down: Zomato, Paytm, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon, Myntra, many other global services suffered massive outageAlso Read - Safer Internet Day 2021: Here's how you can ensure your online security
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,” Times of India quotes Justice Gautam Patel as saying. “The basic purpose must be kept in mind, so that a person who is inadvertently adversely affected by a blocking order is made aware of his remedies and about which court he or she can approach for corrective or remedial action, he added. The court also asked the ISPs to appoint a nodal officer with a dedicated email address, and ensure complaints are responded to within two working days. The directive is applicable to all the ISPs. Also Read - Mobile internet services suspended on Delhi borders till February 2
Earlier, the court directed the ISPs to block certain URLs that illegally provided copyright material, like Torrenlinks.net, btstorrent.cc, torrentdownloads.me, limetorrents.cc among others. With ISPs blocking these websites, users were shown an elaborated message about the court directive. The message read, 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 message was reported to appear on across all broadband service providers. The part of the message – Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable – though led to a huge hue and cry with speculation that even visiting these websites could lead to the penalty. The court s latest directive though puts an all end to all sorts of confusion around it. ALSO READ: Myth busted: Here s why you won t be jailed for viewing a torrent website
The development comes in the wake of the ongoing efforts of the Indian film industry to prevent online piracy that have caused them huge monetary losses over the years. Some of the recent films like Kabaali, Dhishoom and controversial Udta Punjab have been victims of the online piracy. In case of Dhishoom, producers had moved the court to win ban on 134 web links and URLs to prevent piracy of their movie.
The latest issue is highly similar to the ISPs cracking down on certain pornographic websites last year. While the crackdown was mainly limited to prevention of child pornography, but it was seen as the government efforts to breach users privacy and that watching porn had become illegal altogether. After a big controversy and intervention of the Supreme Court, the government partially withdrew the ban and directed to unblock porn sites that did not contain child pornography.
“It s question of a person s right to speech and entertainment. State can’t enter into people’s bedrooms, the government had then told the Supreme Court. “Our government’s commitment to freedom of speech and expression is total. We fully appreciate the great movement of the communication of ideas on social media,” Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi had told the court.