False News, Indian authorities wont jail you for visiting a blocked website, downloading torrents

No! You wont be jailed for visiting a blocked website or downloading torrents in India

If you were to believe the recent reports, you might have landed in jail for visiting a banned website or downloading a torrent. Actually, the jail sentence and the penalty of $4,500 was for a specific case for a recently released Bolloywood movie, Dishoom.

Recent media reports that one could now get three-year jail sentence as well as a fine of $4,500 for trying to visit URLs blocked by the Indian government spread like wildfire creating frenzy among the people in India in the last 24 hours.

However, there is something you should know the next time you use a proxy site or a VPN (virtual private network) to open a torrent site.

“Visiting any website, even if it is a blocked site is not illegal either under the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957 or the Information Technology Act, 2000,” says Prasanth Sugathan, Counsel at the Software Freedom Law Centre India, a registered society that works on the intersections of law and technology. “The only exception could be if a person views child pornography.”

“Torrent sites are often used to share free and open source software and literary and artistic work licensed under Creative Commons licenses,” Sugathan adds.

So, what are the actual details that prompted the reports to float around? The issue is likely due to the John Doe orders that Indian courts are issuing at regular intervals at the request of content creators like Bollywood film makers. The lawyers of film studios often approach courts ahead of a movie’s release seeking preventive blocks on the URLs they compile in the list. IP law publication SpicyIP reported about an order from the Mumbai High Court four days ago while dealing with an anti-piracy application on behalf of the newly-released film Dishoom.

The court ruled in the case that ISPs (internet service providers) should deliver a special message with information about the provisions of the Copyright Act, along with the order in question and the suit number, instead of just displaying the standard message that says the website is being blocked.

As a result of this special message, the people would be aware as to why a page was being blocked. However, this gave rise to question that if pages are being extensively blocked because a movie studio wants to do so, then shouldn’t the people be provided the reason for the block?

To which, Tata responded to the court order saying that individually putting up special information for all the websites blocked is not technologically possible for them. As a result, the court allowed for a special compromise by providing the text that has been going viral across the internet in the last few hours. However, the below message are only seen by users of Tata’s service, which also explains why none of the other ISPs are displaying this message.

“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 urlblock@tatacommunications.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.”

To put in context, the message displayed above talks simply of illegal viewing of the copyrighted materials. Opening or browsing a pirate website will not send you to jail other than some sneaky malwares infecting your system. Having said that, could illegally downloading content land you in jail? Yes, most definitely, as per the Copyright Act about piracy which has been around for a long time now, but has rarely been enforced.

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