Being a law student, I was already convinced beyond doubt that Internet Service Providers cannot be serious when they displayed “You’re a criminal” warning message on some of the torrent websites!
According to the warning that was displayed, you were a criminal if you visited a torrent website or any other website banned by the government and you were liable for a fine of 3 lakhs and/or a 3 year jail term. “So, ISPs are the new judiciary?!!?” is what I thought to myself back then.
Bombay HC, in an interesting ruling in the matter, has finally clarified that mere viewing content on torrent websites (which includes porn, btw) isn’t illegal and a person cannot be held a criminal for the same.
However, selling or showing a pirated movie is a crime, as per the Indian Copyright Laws. While hearing a petition, Justice Gautam Patel from Bombay HC said, “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.”
The petition was filed last last month, when there was a huge uproar over the warnings displayed by Internet Service Providers when an Internet user attempted to open a torrent website.
The Bombay HC has now clarified the issue to a larger extent by instructing the ISPs to remove the warning: “viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating a particular film is a penal offence” and ordered them to showcase a more ‘generic’ warning for accessing such banned websites.
What had triggered the confusion in the matter more was the ambiguous and flawed Indian Copyright Act of 1957 which was clearly misinterpreted by the concerned ISPs, while showcasing the warning. The ancient law is full of loopholes in its workings, and this vulnerability was exploited by the ISPs while warning it’s users from accessing such content.
The other more technical reason that ISPs have claimed being, due to less space in the firewall, a small warning was displayed which created all this confusion. As per the logic provided by Omprakash Dharmani from Tata Communications in the Bombay HC, ISPs use firewall which has size limitation of 32KB, which forces them to showcase a smaller warning.
Thus, as per the ruling by Justice Patel, ISPs have now been asked to showcase bigger warnings for avoiding such goofups; and also provide email address of a nodal officer, so that complaints related to copyright infringement can be addressed quickly.
The ISPs have been asked to display the following warning from immediate effect :
“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 lakh.”
And besides Tata Communication, this order about error messages holds true for all ISPs in India (REJOICE!).
So, if you had stopped viewing certain content on the internet because of the warnings, let the good times roll!
Cheers, internet is a boon again!
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.