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Explained: Why is there an FIR against Sundar Pichai in Mumbai?

What are the laws and regulations on uploading content on YouTube, and with regard to issues of copyright?

Written by Mohamed Thaver , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: January 28, 2022 12:46:32 pm
Sundar Pichai (Photo: AP/ File)

Mumbai Police on Wednesday (January 26) registered an FIR against Google CEO Sundar Pichai, along with four other executives including Gautam Anand, managing director of YouTube (which is owned by Google), in a case of alleged infringement of copyright.

The FIR was registered on a complaint by filmmaker Suneel Darshan, who has alleged that his 2017 film ‘Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha’ was illegally uploaded on YouTube. Darshan has made some successful films like Andaaz (2003) starring Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra, and Lara Dutta, and Jaanwar (1999) starring Akshay Kumar, Karisma Kapoor, and Shilpa Shetty.

What are the laws and regulations on uploading content on YouTube, and with regard to issues of copyright?

What does the FIR against Pichai and the others say?

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Mumbai Police registered the FIR after director and producer Darshan filed a private complaint at the Andheri Magistrate Court in August last year.

The police had initially not registered the FIR. Under the law, an individual can approach the Magistrate Court with a private complaint seeking an FIR if the police refuse to register one.

The court found merit in the complaint, which sought the registering of an FIR under section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which states that “any Magistrate empowered under section 190 (which deals with ‘Cognizance of offences by Magistrates’) may order such an investigation as above-mentioned”.

“There is a prima facie case of infringement of the various copyright works…Nowadays piracy and infringement of copyright has become a menace…,” Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate A A Panchbhai observed.

“It is necessary that such offence be investigated by the police. Matter be sent for investigation to MIDC Police Station U/Sec.156(3) of CrPC… The concerned police station to register the FIR immediately first, then, complete the investigation and file final report in this case,” the court said.

The MIDC police then registered an FIR under sections 51, 63, and 69 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 against Google, YouTube, Google India, Pichai, Anand, and four others.

In essence, Darshan’s complaint is that his film ‘Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha’ received “billions of views” after it was uploaded on YouTube, for which he did not get the monetary benefit. Darshan has the copyright for the film, and it is, therefore, illegal that someone else should upload the film and earn revenue.

What is the law on intermediaries like YouTube hosting copyrighted content?

Cyber lawyer Vicky Shah said that under the law, once a complaint is filed about content uploaded on the platform, including a complaint of copyright infringement, the intermediary platform has to delete the content within 72 hours.

On the current case, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We rely on copyright owners to notify us of unauthorised uploads and offer rights management tools, such as YouTube’s Content ID system that gives rights holders an automated way to identify, block, promote, and even make money from uploads of their content. When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove the content promptly in accordance with the law, and terminate the accounts of users with multiple copyright strikes.”

Darshan, however, says that he contacted YouTube several times regarding his movie being uploaded by someone else but received no response. He was, therefore, forced to approach the court to get an FIR registered.

Are such complaints of alleged copyright infringement online common?

Intellectual Property Rights (IRP) lawyer Manas Mokashi said several people do indeed make such complaints. However, most of these cases are resolved at the pre-admission (to court) stage, after the platforms agree to remove the content from their platform and, on some occasions, also offer monetary compensation.

The complainant must be able to provide evidence of monetary losses, Mokashi said. “For example, one may have to show a contract that could not be executed with another platform because someone had illegally uploaded it already,” Mokashi said.

He added that if the accused company decides, they could seek relief from higher courts, and the matter could even go to the Supreme Court if the company decides to draw out the legal battle.

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