“Viewing pirated videos/films will not land you in jail” – Setting A wrong precedent?

Restrictions imposed by the Indian Trademark Office for amending your trademark applications.

The buzz about legality of watching pirated movies on blocked websites has been doing the rounds for a while. The Bombay High Court in Eros International Media Limited v.  Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, pronounced that “mere viewing of blocked websites and its content (the pirated movie) is not an offence”.

The judgment came about as a sigh of relief and joy among the public and everyone everywhere has been boasting about the fact that mere viewing of pirated movies isn’t illegal and does not amount to copyright infringement! [going by news reports] However, somewhere down the line, though this judgment dealt primarily with the wording of a notice when a URL which hosted infringing content was pulled down, it seems like the interpretation of the judgment is setting a wrong precedent.

Amidst the high number piracy cases blooming in India, the Courts have been actively involved in blocking several websites that host pirated movies. The Courts have been doing a great job on granting injunctions prior to the release of movies and while there has been great debate and discussion on the blanket removal of links and sites, overall it has been an effective means of curbing piracy. One of such cases was where the Bombay High Court granted a John Doe order for the movie Dishoom and directed ISPs to display a special detailed warning message.  The ISP’s went ahead and removed the links and pasted a warning message which stated:

This URL has been blocked under the instructions of the Competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL 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 which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of upto Rs. 3,00,000/-. Any person aggrieved by any such blocking of this URL may contact at urlblock@tatacommunications.com who will, within 48 hours, provide you the details of relevant proceedings under which you can approach the relevant High Court or Authority for redressal of your grievance”

Subsequent to this warning message, the internet went viral with articles and media reports which stated that even viewing of blocked websites and URLs would amount to criminal offence and will be penalized with a jail term. In a view to clarify the mounting controversy on whether viewing the contents of a blocked website is illegal and will amount to copyright infringement, the Bombay High Court suo moto took up the issue and amended the warning message to exclude the words “Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable”. They Court issued an order for all the ISPs to display the following amended version of the warning message:

This URL has been blocked under instructions of a competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content including under this URL is an offence in law. Ss. 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957, read with Section 51, prescribe penalties of a prison term of upto 3 years and a fine of upto Rs.3 lakhs. Any person aggrieved by the blocking of this URL may contact the Nodal Officer at xyz@[isp-domain] for details of the blocking order including the case number, court or authority to be approached for grievance redressals. Emails will be answered within two working days. Only enquiries regarding the blocking will be entertained. 

Prima facie the judgment clarifies that viewing the contents of blocked websites do not amount to copyright infringement and therefore do not attract any penalization as long as you don’t download or distribute or make copies of the same.

On legal grounds the judgment has aptly clarified the rumoured controversy. However, the interpretation of this judgment tends to set out a wrong precedent morally. Yes, mere viewing isn’t illegal, but it does not also imply that people can or should view infringing copyright content on websites. By viewing the content, the public is generating revenue for these blocked websites, and therefore encouraging piracy and the entire ecosystem.

In the present generation where several desperate attempts are being taken to curb piracy and alongside the internet users always find a way around such attempts, the interpretation accorded to this judgment, in my personal opinion doesn’t appeal to the people in the right way. By removing a warning that stated it was illegal to watch pirated content, it implies its legality which doesn’t have a deterrent effect and will definitely not aid in curbing piracy.

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