|Screenshot taken from TorrentFreak|
A frantic call from a friend last night informed me of a rather strange message on their screen. “This site has been blocked as per instructions from Department of Telecom (DoT)”. The site my friend was trying to access was Megaupload.com – an online storage site. A quick google inquiry brought up similar concerns being voiced by other internet users on internet forums. I, myself, however, was able to access the site with no problems. From reading around the online forums, this is what I gathered to have taken place:
Several ISPs, apparently Airtel being the most aggresive, blocked access to several popular ‘file-sharing’ sites including Megaupload.com, Mediafire.com, Megavideo.com, etc. with the above message being the message posted. (Screenshot on top). There is no official word from the DoT on the matter.
The reason behind the ban apparently is due to a John Doe order from the Delhi High Court granted to Reliance Big Pictures for their movie Singham in order to prevent any copyright infringement. Whether the ISPs were warned by the DoT, or took the move themselves, is unknown, but either way it led to the complete blockage of many sites which could be used to host infringing copies of the movie. However, as mentioned, by the time I had heard about this, which was about 24 hours after the sites started being blocked, I was able to access these sites on my Airtel connection. Several forums also had users reporting they were no longer seeing that censorship screen.
Does this type of censorship make any sense? No, certainly not. There are many paying members who host their perfectly legal files online in these cyberlockers. Considering the movie Singham released today, there are no doubt pirated copies already being passed around both online and offline. But this kind of action is no way of going about ‘preventing’ this piracy. Even leaving legalities aside, it seems to just be bad policy to slam down with excessive force ignoring definite ‘splash damage’ to bystanders. In fact, this censorship seems to have angered many on the various online forums into asking people to boycott the movie in theatres! Online piracy continues to be rampant, but with torrents, proxies, secure tunnels and what not, combined with the seemingly infiniteness of the internet, it seems a much more tactful method would be required to deal with this kind of infringement.
ISPs no doubt took this step out of abundant precaution to negate any potential liability. However, certainly this was above and beyond what was required. Sections 79 and 81 of the IT Act provide protection to intermediaries – so long as ISPs take sufficient precaution (including immediately taking down content which was reported infringing) to ensure that they aren’t knowingly infringing on copyrighted content (here – the movie Singham), they ought to be in the clear. If at all they wanted to take an extra step, wouldn’t it have made more sense to just make a filter for the word “Singham”, rather than block all and any content on several file storing sites? In any case, it appears that the ban is no longer active, so we can hope that it was only a temporary ‘mistake’.
Forums and blogs that I checked included:
Tags: Intermediary Liability