US piracy bill can hit Indian sites too

The copyright bills would give US authorities powers to take down websites in India.

Written by Atideb Sarkar | New Delhi | Published: January 23, 2012 12:05:12 am

The copyright bills being considered in the US,which led to Wikipedia briefly shutting down in protest,would give the US authorities powers to take down websites based in India,too,if they are suspected of infringing copyright. The senate has put off voting on the PROTECT IP bill.

The PROTECT IP and Stop Online Piracy bills would affect Indian websites,says Pavan Duggal,a lawyer at the Supreme Court. “The laws have been drafted in mischievously broad terms,which are so wide that they are aiming to give extraterritorial applicability to such laws,” he says.

The PROTECT IP bill (“Preventing Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Bill of 2011”) gives the American government powers to start legal proceedings against a non-US website if it is suspected of being “dedicated to infringing activities”.

The bill,sponsored by Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate,allows US courts to order American ISPs to take steps to prevent such websites from translating to the correct internet protocol address once the American government files its charges. These orders can be issued when the domains are based outside the United States. “If your website is available in the US,you fall under the purview of the law,” Duggal says.

The bill also allows US courts to order financial institutions to “prevent,prohibit,or suspend” their relationships with the websites. Search engines could be ordered to “remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name.”

Duggal says online advertising platforms would also be forced to restrict access to websites accused of copyright infringement. “Accounts like Google Adsense could be disabled to virtually make your online presence obsolete. In addition,they can also get orders directed to payment service providers like Pay Pal to block or freeze your accounts.”

Last month,Mark Lemley,David S Levine and David G Post,internet lawyers at Stanford University,said: “Websites can be ‘completely removed from circulation’ – rendered unreachable by,and invisible to,Internet users in the United States and abroad – immediately upon application by the government,without any reasonable opportunity for the owner or operator of the website in question to be heard or to present evidence on his or her own behalf.”

The Stop Online Piracy bill,moved by Republicans in the lower chamber of the US Congress,has been criticised for allowing holders of intellectual property to act against alleged offenders without any judicial supervision.

Owners of intellectual property would only have to provide facts to credit-card companies supporting their “reasonable belief” that the accused website is “a foreign infringing site or dedicated to theft of US property”.

Duggal says the bills represent another effort by a government to tighten its grip on the internet. “ If you are the target of such legal actions,you have no effective defences available,” he says.

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