Hello good citizens of India, those of you who indulge in torrent-based piracy would have received a rude awakening over the past couple of days. If you tried to access your favourite torrent site, you’d have received a warning message, stating that attempting to access a blocked website would have you serve up to 3 years in jail along with being slapped with a fine of up to Rs 3,00,000. The message goes on to say that such activities would be in violation of Sections 63,63A and 65 of the Indian Copyright Act of 1957. The government has been tough on piracy over the last few years, but this is taking things to a whole new level in order to curb illicit downloads. While it could be considered commendable for the government to spell out just how much trouble you’re going to get into the next time you download an episode of Game of Thrones, it seems rather unlikely that the harsh terms of punishment would come to pass.
According to Section 63(a) any person found to be knowingly infringing or abetting in the infringement of copyrighted work is liable for a monetary fine and time in jail, the degree of which is lesser if it is the offender’s first offence. The punishment is harder for repeat offenders, as can be expected. However, it seems rather absurd that this rule would be applied to just torrent and piracy related websites when the nation is rife with instances of copyright violation across so many more medium. Whether you’re a photographer, or a filmmaker or even a musician, you would have faced an instance (or multiple, if you’re that unlucky) where another entity has either completely stolen your work and claimed it as their own, making profits from its sales. In some cases, the thief simply copies the idea of the original and replicates it without any attribution. Many films coming of our film industry happen to follow that very formula; copy from various older films from world cinema and mash it all together into a mediocre two-hour long torture fest.
The government is quick to protect corporate interest, but by shutting down piracy websites as it results in loss of revenue FOR THE CORPORATIONS, but what about the artist who has his work stolen day-to-day? Where is the legal recourse for such people? Many entities will refuse to pay for a subscription to stock image and music websites, and instead, choose to use ill-acquired content from Image search or even popular streaming websites, knowing that the person holding the copyright is not financially or legally equipped to take on the corporation.
While it is good to see the government intimidate users with legal jargon and big fines while attempting to view blocked websites, it should be known that there is no grounds on which you can be held in violation of the Indian Copyright Act for just visiting a website. The violation lies in actually downloading and distributing the ill-gotten digital content, for which someone else holds a copyright. With a blanket ban like this one, the government has also ensured that independent creators of content (such as music and films) now have one less platform to distribute their content. Many filmmakers have resorted to releasing their works through torrents as part of the free-distribution model and a ban like this one nips that in the bud.
The last point to consider with the latest move by the government is to wonder just how many people will it put in prison. While only 3 per cent of the internet-enabled population of India indulges in piracy according to the latest MUSO report, even that is a very significant number. Are the Indian jails ready to handle the heavy influx of “digital criminals” or has the government just opened up a new avenue for the law-enforcement agencies to harass the good people of this fine nation? There is of course the questionable legality of tracking of a user’s internet usage and the complete legal black-hole that is the process of how the government will go about acquiring records of said activity.