The press has been awash with reports that merely visiting a torrent website is reason enough to send a person to jail for three years and fined Rs. 3 lakh.
The Indian government’s latest stand against piracy is undoubtedly strong, but the reports are completely inaccurate in saying that a visit is sufficient for an arrest. Imagine landing on a torrent website after accidentally clicking on a link and ending up in jail!
Here’s what actually happened:
Downloading Made Illegal
Several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country have begun displaying a warning stating that “viewing, downloading, exhibiting, or duplicating an illicit copy of the content” on an objectionable website would subject a user to repercussions under Sections 63, 63-A, 65, and 65-A of the Copyright Act 1957.
Even renowned news sources such as The Times of India and India Today took the word ‘content’ to mean the ‘content’ that is displayed on any web page. This is a hasty reading of the government’s message.
The government’s intent is simply to penalise illegal downloading, duplication or exhibiting of copyrighted content. There is nothing illegal about a torrent website’s operations, per se. If you, for example, compose a song or film a movie and wish to transfer it to a friend via a torrent website, you could still do so. Downloading content that is copyrighted, however, is punishable.
ISPs are reportedly blocking content themselves to avoid backlash from movie producers who’ve been adversely affected by the growing popularity of torrent websites in tier-II and tier-III cities. Movie producers have begun seeking out John Doe orders from the court before the release of their movie. A John Doe order is one against any person or entity that may indulge in piracy. These orders are passed on to ISPs, which often enforce a much wider ban than the one expected of them.
The government has made clear its stance on the matter, but it remains to be seen how the law will be enforced. Even now it is unevenly enforced. Several torrent websites are still available even in areas where a few have been banned. Meanwhile, not all ISPs are enforcing the ban.
A year ago, the government did attempt to take seriously illegal downloads, but it only took a minor backlash from users for it to be dropped.