A couple of months ago, the Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, while delivering the keynote speech at the ‘National Workshop on Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights’ made some tall claims about how copyright infringement and piracy was funding terrorism. This particular urban legend, linking copyright infringement to terrorism has been the central plank of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for some time now despite there being no convincing evidence actually establishing the link between copyright piracy and terror funding. Balu earlier did a detailed piece critiquing this narrative.
The only reason, I presume, for the MPAA to jump on to this ‘terror’ bandwagon is because post 9/11 the magic words of ‘terror funding’ would invite a sledgehammer response from law enforcement authorities. In India, this narrative has led to copyright infringement being included as one of the scheduled offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 – meaning a conviction for copyright infringement can lead to the state confiscating all property resulting from the copyright infringement that resulted in the conviction on the grounds that it is money laundering. It is not clear whether the copyright owner has the right to apportion damages from such property.
Since the issue of terror funding and copyright infringement keeps popping up every now and then, I decided to file an application under the Right to Information Act asking the Ministry of Home Affairs the following question:
- Does the Ministry of Home Affairs have any knowledge whether piracy of intellectual property rights have served as sources for funding of terrorism and other nefarious underworld activities.
2. If the Ministry of Home Affairs has identified any particular cases where piracy of IPRs contributed to funding of terrorism and other nefarious underworld activities, you are requested to please provide details of such cases.
The answer that I received from the ministry on 8.11.2017 (MHOME/R/2017/52554) is as follows:
As per available informations Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT) Cell of IS-I Division, MHA has no specific information of any such particular case.
If the Combating Financing of Terrorism Cell of the Internal Security Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs has no information the link between piracy of IP rights and terror funding, I will take their word for it over that of the MPAA.
Industry lobbyists are very skilled in whipping up compelling narratives but the MPAA often takes it to a different level – sometimes I think they outsource the task of building these narratives to the script writers in Hollywood.
While piracy of IP rights, especially on the internet is a serious issue, warranting state intervention, I think it is absolutely necessary for the state to maintain some semblance of balance between the rights of IP owners and public interest. In the eighties when authors screamed murder over alleged copyright piracy, Parliament amended the Copyright Act, 1957 to grant the police sweeping powers to conduct search and seizure without the safeguard of a magistrate taking cognizance of the offence. The original Section 64 as enacted in 1957, required a Magistrate to take cognizance of the offence after which the police could seize without warrant infringing copies of the work during investigation and produce them before the magistrate as soon as possible. This provision was amended in 1983 to allow the police to seize any potentially infringing material without the need of a warrant from the Magistrate. This provision was used by T-Series to get the Bangalore police to enter the offices of Guruji.com, a promising music search engine backed by Sequoia etc., to arrest the founders and seize their equipment. There is a serious question of law as to whether Guruji.com was even committing copyright infringement because it was an intermediary. This case is the perfect example of why we need to provide for safeguards restraining the police from the temptation to bust into workplaces and arrest people for alleged infringement that takes place in the grey zone of the law.