Closer to a censored society

Pic from here
Being currently based out of India, I hadn’t noticed it myself, but a lot of my friends were complaining about several file-sharing sites and video sites being blocked or censored. And it appears that even Anonymous’ attention has been drawn to these incidences. More on that shortly. 
I’ve looked into what other sources are saying and it appears that at least a portion of the ‘censorship’ seems to be due to an interim injunction order issued by the Madras High Court (which Prashant earlier wrote about here) by R.K Productions, Chennai and apparently pushed for by Chennai based Copyright Labs. It has lead to several file-sharing sites such as Vimeo, Dailymotion, The Pirate Bay, etc being completely blocked with messages to the tune of “this website has been blocked as per instructions from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).” This has quite naturally caused many users all over the country much chagrin. Vimeo, for instance, is used by independent film makers to share their work and this sudden arbitrary ban is bound to cause such users more than a mere ‘inconvenience.’  
So who ordered this random censorship in the guise of copyright protection? It doesn’t seem to be quite clear where the orders have come from. The court order certainly didn’t order the banning of these sites – which leaves either Copyright Labs (the party that R.K Productions hired for online anti-piracy management) and/or the ISPs themselves. 
The order lists BSNL, MTNL, Bharti Airtel, Aircel Cellular, Hathway Cable and Dotcom, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices, O-Zone Networks, Tikona Digital Networks, BG Broadband India, Sify Technologies, among other internet providers. This of course covers nearly all of India’s internet users. 
However, it appears that even within the same ISP, airtel for instance, customers in Bangalore and Delhi were blocked but airtel customers from smaller towns were not. So it’s not clear on what basis this censorship is being done. Perhaps only big city people can pirate this Telegu movie ‘3’? And of course, these pirates will ensure that it is available on every part of a website – why else would the whole site be banned?
Incidentally, this is not the first time that ISPs have taken such steps. Just a few months ago, there was a similar episode when Singham was being released. That time however, the censorship lasted around 24 hours before it was remedied. 
While Indian consumers are being left confused and angry at this arbitrary banning, the (in?)famous internet group ‘Anonymous’, or a breakaway from them called ‘Anonymous’s opIndia’ (opindia_revenge) decided to take some action to show their displeasure at this censorship. 
Along with their tweet, 
“Namaste #India, your time has come to trash the current government and install a new one. Good luck.” , 
they apparently hacked into the websites of the Supreme Court, the Congress Party’s official website, the Dept of Telecom as well as the website of Copyright Labs and rendered them inaccessible. It seems some of these have been remedied by the time this post has come up. 
There is however an unexpected positive to all this. By drawing in so much criticism, news sources and media are catching on to the amount of censorship that goes on in India. CIS-India has written on this extensively, a brief summary of which is available here. I would recommend a quick glance over of this  to get an idea of what is going on beneath. In pertinent part (though not copyright related)
Google has released statistics of government request for content removal as part of its Transparency Report.  While Mr. Sibal uses the examples of communally sensitive material as a reason to force censorship of the Internet, out of the 358 items requested to be removed from January 2011 to June 2011 from Google service by the Indian government (including state governments), only 8 were for hate speech and only 1 was for national security.  Instead, 255 items (71 per cent of all requests) were asked to be removed for ‘government criticism’.  Google, despite the government in India not having the powers to ban government criticism due to the Constitution, complied in 51 per cent of all requests.”

Perhaps recognising this problem of censorship, be it under the guise of government criticism or copyright, is the first step to addressing it. 

Thanks to Akshara Chittoor and Samer Talwar for bringing this to my attention. 
News sources used for this post included Firstpost ; Tech2 ; The Hindu ; PCMag
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