In India, the Government’s ongoing campaign against torrent portals and other sites which are deemed to infringe on copyright has been stepped up.
Torrenters in India have discovered in recent days that their favourite torrent sites have been blocked. This in itself is nothing particularly new. Copyright is a big issue in India and the Bollywood media industry and various other organisations have been proactive in seeking to enforce those rights.
‘John Doe Orders’
However, to date the legal process they have used to block sites has been one known as a ‘John Doe Order’. This is a court injunction which requires ISPs to restrict access to sites which participate in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content.
When users visited these sites they saw a message informed them that access was blocked. However, in recent days, the warning message being displayed has contained a threat which has got many users in India worried.
Now, instead of simply saying the site is blocked, it adds that users who access content on the site could be liable to a fine of up to 3 million rupees and imprisonment for up to three years.
What this means is that even visiting a site which is subject to one of these ‘John Doe Orders’ is now deemed a criminal offence and subject to possible legal action.
And if reports in the Indian press are to be believed, this new message is no hollow threat either. India Today states that even if you don’t actually download a torrent, you will still be liable to this punishment, saying “just accessing information under a blocked URL will land you in jail and leave your bank account poorer…”
So what’s new? Well, it appears that the answer to that question is, nothing. The legislation which is quoted in the warning is the Copyright Act of 1957, which is nearly 60 years old. But under this law, the new warning is confusing.
Experts have commented that there is nothing in that bill makes visiting a Torrent site illegal – not surprising given that it was passed decades before the internet, never mind torrenting, was even thought of. Nor is there anything that could be construed as making the download of a torrent file which does not infringe copyright illegal.
But if that’s the case, then why has the message been changed now? Well, some commentators have linked it to a court case from earlier this year. In that case, the Indian Department of Electronics and Information Technology intervened in a case brought by a member of the public which argued that blocking entire sites was illegal.
Somewhat surprisingly, their intervention was on the side of the individual bringing the case. But despite securing government support, the Indian High Court ruled that site-wide blocks were justified. In the High Court ruling, it explicitly stated that it was the “duty of the Government” to act to enforce such court orders.
It is thought that the updated message may be in response to that ruling.
So the question that remains is, what changes in reality for internet users who plan to use torrent sites in India? Well, this change is relatively new and there is nothing at the present time which suggests that the message is intended as anything more than a deterrent.
But in India, it has received widespread media attention and as deterrents go, it has proved pretty effective with many users now scared to take the risk of using torrent sites.
Of course, the simple way to continue using torrent sites without running the risk of a 3-year jail sentence and a large fine is to access the sites via a VPN. A VPN can mask your identity and location and therefore enable you to download and view content on such sites anonymously.
VPN use in India is already considerably higher than the global average in response to the Government’s already draconian stance on censorship and other online freedom issues.
This new threat is likely to see more Indian internet users signing up, and should the new message actually in be enforced, it seems likely that this stream of VPN users could become, ironically, a torrent.