Viewing illicit content not illegal, Bombay HC clarifies
The High Court of Bombay has clarified that it is not appropriate to suggest that merely viewing an illicit copy of a film is a punishable offence under the Copyright Act.
Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court also ruled that its only when a user distributes a copyright infringing content that he or she is committing an offense. “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,” Justice Patel said.
He asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to drop the line “‘viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating’ a particular film is a penal offence” from the ‘error message’ and directed them to display a more generic message for copyright infringement in the “error message” to these blocked URLs to state that the site was blocked pursuant to an order of the court.
Last month, several Indian Internet users noticed that their favorite torrent websites were blocked, displaying a rather ominous message that said they could face up to three years in prison for simply viewing copyrighted content. The viewers who tried to access The Pirate Bay, ExtraTorrent and hundreds of other sites went in a tizzy after reading the message displayed.
Acting on a plea by producers of the film Dishoom against online piracy, the court had recently ordered ISPs to block sites showing pirated content, along with an “error message” as a measure to ensure genuine e-commerce sites are not affected.
Judge Patel ordered Internet provider Tata Communication Ltd. (TCL), which manages the blocking message, to remove the viewing part. The court directed that the message should say, “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 `3lakh.”
The court also told that anyone with a grievance could contact the nodal officer of the ISP. The judge noted that the ISP must appoint a nodal officer with a dedicated email address and reply to complaints within two working days. The order must be followed by all ISPs including Vodafone and MTNL, said the HC.
However, on August 12, Tata Communication Ltd. (TCL) had said that it was not “technically impossible” to implement the directive.