Breathe easy, internet users. Amid the confusion and panic, the Bombay High Court has ruled that it is not illegal to watch pirated content on the web. A somewhat misleading notice posted by internet service providers in India last month said that “viewing” copyright infringing content too is a punishable act under Indian law.
Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court ruled that only when a user distributes a copyright infringing content that he or she is committing an offense. “The offense is not in viewing, but in making a prejudicial distribution, a public exhibition or letting for sale or hire without appropriate permission copyright-protected material,” he said.
Several internet service providers in India were warning customers last month, when they visited several torrent and file sharing websites. The warning said that “viewing, downloading, exhibiting, or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents […] is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, including but not limited to under Sections 63, 63-A, 65, and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957.”
The notice created a sense of panic. Several users wondered if they would be jailed if they accidentally landed on a shady file-sharing website, for instance. Justice Patel added that ISPs should make modifications to the warning.
Amlan Mohanty, a lawyer and internet activist, said that the language used in it is problematic on many counts. The three-year jail time penalty is for when a user is caught distributing copyright infringing content for commercial purposes. The notice also ignored the fair use aspect, he added.
Justice Patel added that these notices should make users, who are inadvertently affected by a blocking order, aware of the remedies — including the court they should approach for corrective or remedial action. None of these details were mentioned in the warning that ISPs ran last month.
India remains one of the biggest piracy markets in the world. Film studios in the country see a significant dent in their earnings every year because of this. In recent years, they have started to take strict measures to curb distribution of their titles. For instance, many producers now seek a ‘John Doe’ order from the court to take down links of illegal copies in a more timely fashion. But often, ISPs err on the side of caution and end up blocking websites that aren’t necessarily offering objectionable content.