In a recent order, the Bombay High Court has said that it is
inaccurate to suggest that merely viewing an illicit copy of a film
is a punishable offence under the Copyright Act. Honorable Justice
G.S. Patel said, "The offence 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. These error pages appear to
have confused the penal provisions regarding obscenity with
penalties under the Copyright Act, 1957."
The resultant order by Justice Patel stems from a warning
message that was displayed by all Internet Service Providers
(hereinafter referred to as ISPs), on all the websites that were
hosting pirated content. The said message was, ""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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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". He directed all ISPs to
drop the line "'viewing, downloading, exhibiting or
duplicating' a particular film is a penal offence" from
the 'error message' and directed them to display a more
generic message on URLS to be blocked for infringement of
This message led a number of newspapers around the country to
wrongly report that, a mere viewing of illicit copies of a film
could land one in jail. The Copyright Act, 1957, nowhere states the
same and sections 63, 63A, 65 and 65A suffer from a gross
misinterpretation. The message has been poorly drafted by ISPs,
which was the primary cause for the confusion.
In a later order dated August 30, a copy of which can be found
over here, Justice Patel asked all ISPs to display
a more accurate generic message. The said message contained in
paragraph 4 of the order read as, "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
The matter has now been listed for September 23, when the court
will examine if a more complete error message can be displayed by
the ISPs. While doing so, Justice Patel also endorsed the
suggestion made by Prof. Basheer for a need of a neutral ombudsman
for future blocking related issues.
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