Indian Judge clarifies that visiting blocked websites, like one for torrents, isn’t illegal

Posted on Sep 7, 2016 by Caleb Chen

blocked website warning india

The Indian government has clarified that simply visiting blocked websites, viewing a torrent magnet link, or streaming a pirated movie is not illegal and will not result in fines or imprisonment. The High Court of Bombay has ordered Tata Communications and all other Indian ISPs to change the wording on the warning message that shows up on blocked websites. The original warning intentionally left the impression that accessing blocked websites would result in up to 3 years imprisonment and fines. Bombay Judge Patel put an end to this by clarifying in a court decision that the verbiage “‘viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating’ a particular film is a penal offence” needed to be removed. The warning now says:

“This URL has been blocked under instructions of a competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content including under this URL is an offence in law. Ss. 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. Any person aggrieved by the blocking of this URL may contact the Nodal Officer at xyz@[isp-domain] for details of the blocking order including the case number, court or authority to be approached for grievance redressals. Emails will be answered within two working days. Only enquiries regarding the blocking will be entertained.”

Judge also pushes for an ombudsman so blocked websites have recourse to appeal the ban

Additionally, the judge recommended that courts appoint a neutral ombudsman when ordering Indian ISPs to ban websites; that way, there is a way for improperly blocked websites to appeal the decision. Currently, movie makers and copyright holders bring court cases against a “John Doe” to allow companies to request blanket bans of websites, not just the parts of the websites that carry illegal material. The process is long, arduous, and leads to many mistakes that do not get rectified in a timely manner. The ombudsman idea is gaining steam as of late thanks to Professor Basheer. Judge Patel explained:

“Many John Doe orders are granted without a sufficient checking of the Plaintiffs’ claim. This results in overly broad orders and wholesale site blocking without adequate verification of the legitimacy of all content,”

It has actually been revealed in court that the technical “experts” hired by Balaji Motion Pictures to identify websites offering illegal torrents simply used a web crawler to find mentions of the film’s title – resulting in blocked websites that merely offered reviews of the offending movie without offering any torrent links to it. The legal barrier of entry to copyright trolls is finally being raised in India. However, access to an uncensored and open Internet, which is supposed to be a human right, is still an elusive and expressly ignored goal in the country that has shut down Internet access in some areas for over a month.

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