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India3 years jail for viewing torrent sites, blocked URLs

3 years jail for viewing torrent sites, blocked URLs


3 years jail for viewing torrent sites, blocked URLs

New Delhi: Call it the new Digital . The Indian government, with the help of internet service providers, and presumably under directives of court, has banned thousands of websites and URLs in the last five odd years. But until now if you somehow visited these “blocked URLs” all was fine. However, now if you try to visit such URLs and view the information, you may get three-year jail sentence as well as invite a fine of Rs 3 lakh.

This is just for viewing a torrent file, or downloading a file from a host that may have been banned in India, or even for viewing an image on a file host like Imagebam. You don't have to download a torrent file, and then the actual or other files, which might have copyright. Just accessing information under a blocked URL will land you in jail and leave your bank account poorer by Rs 3 lakh.

If you visit such a URL, you will be shown the following warning.

“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 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”

This is a change compared to the earlier message that users would encounter on the blocked URLs in India. The earlier message would read that the URL has been blocked at the direction of DoT. Of late, however, the government bodies were not only experimenting in how to implement the blocks but were also trying to figure what message to show to users. Recently, the blocked URLs also gave out not reachable error without specifying any message.

In India, most of the URLs and websites were blocked using DNS-filtering. This means the DNS of the blocked site was added to a list maintained by the internet service provider and whenever a user tried connecting to that site, the DNS server of the internet service provider would block that request. However, this was easy to bypass as a lot of people started using – or were already using – third-party DNS services such as those maintained by Google. It is also ineffective if a site uses HTTPS or in other words encryption to secure the network between the user's computer and the site server.

But in the last couple of years internet service providers, probably at the request of government bodies, have invested lot more in bolstering the mechanism through which they block websites. Indian government bodies too, instead of relying on internet service providers that are many, has started bring into play the big companies like Tata Communications and Airtel that manage a number of internet gateways in India.

The latest warning message clearly implies that the URL blocking is now happening at the internet gateways – in this particular case for the example the gateway is seemingly managed by Tata Communications – and that is more difficult to circumvent. The connection on which this message was served is from MTNL. But the message came from Tata Communications. We sent an email to Tata Communications at the specified address to get more information but it bounced back (see above).

While the message in itself is ominous and surely must have been vetted by a government body, it is not clear how it will be enforced. It doesn't look possible that the government will be monitoring the whole wide web, looking for people may access or try to access a blocked URL. It is also not clear how, if someone does land in trouble for accessing a blocked URL in India, will be prosecuted and what process will be followed.

Lack of clarity on it as well as no prior information on something like this, which may make, almost every web user in India a criminal, does indicate that this is just a message and not any sort of official government policy, which is going to be enforced. However, at the same, it is also clear that the mere presence of this message to web users mean that they may end up in trouble if a government body or cops do decided to follow through on anything that they believe is 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”.

Blame it on John Doe

The problem, for now, doesn't seem to that India is moving to block half of the internet through a policy the way China does. Instead, the issue is likely due to the John Doe orders that Indian courts are issuing at the regular interval at the request of content creators like film makers. The lawyers of film studios often approach courts ahead of a movie's release seeking preventive blocks on the URLs they compile in the list.

In reality these lists are poorly compiled and often block is sought on full websites just on the basis of whims and fancies. However, courts have regularly issued orders in the favour of film studios in India. These court orders are issued against John Doe or in other words an unnamed entity that may indulge in piracy of the film.

Once this order is issued, the copies of the order along with the list of URLs to be blocked go to DoT, which them passes an order to internet service providers to block these sites. The interesting bit here is that once a URL is blocked it remains blocked, even years after the release of the film.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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