Digital piracy, flipside of internet

Digital piracy, flipside of internet

The Bombay High Court recently directed the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) not just to block Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) of pirated websites but also to caution internet users that their visits to illegal URLs would invite a fine of up to Rs 3 lakh and three years’ imprisonment. The court order was in response to an application by Eros International Media Ltd, Mumbai to prevent unauthorised access on the internet to Bollywood film Dishoom, which features John Abraham and Varun Dhawan.    

Today, those who wish to watch a movie or listen to a song on the internet unhesitatingly download whatever they want without any payment to entertain themselves. The court order which supports the entertainment industry would like to reverse this consumer behaviour and make them pay for their entertainment which was hitherto availed free of cost. 

In 2002, a Delhi High Court order prohibited 1,377 unlicensed cable operators to broadcast football World Cup in response to an application that Ten Sports had filed to enforce exclusive broadcasting rights which are protected under the Indian copyright law. 

The first time that the Indian judiciary passed the ‘John Doe’ orders was in the case of Taj Television v Rajan Mandal in 2003. When the identity of a potential infringer is unknown, he is referred to as ‘John Doe’ in the US and ‘Ashok Kumar’ in India. In such cases, the courts pass a general prohibitory order to prevent any potential for infringement of copyright. 

Initially, the prohibitory court orders were targeted against unlicensed cable operators to prevent them from infringement of broadcast rights which the film industry later adopted to block internet users to illegally upload or download movies or songs. 

The first to do so were the Bollywood producers of films 7 Khoon Maaf and Thank You. Subsequently, the producers of Hindi films Singham, Bodyguard, Speedy Singhs and Don 2 followed suit to take legal recourse against infringement.    

The digital age has transfor-med everybody’s way of life and the internet has especially affec-ted the economy of the entertainment industry with absolutely no respect for the copyright law. Hence, the blocking of websites like Torrent, which contain movies and TV serials. In other words, internet users who visit websites like Torrent and Pirate Bay are liable to face punishment under the copyright law. 

Till now, the entertainment industry provided names of pirated websites to the courts which then issued an order to the ISPs to block those specified websites. Such a course of legal action suffered from serious limitations to implement the law of the land because the pirated websites tend to adopt a flexible response and alter their domain name systems.  

Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, who specialises in inter-relationship between law and technology, says that for copyright laws to succeed, four entities have to be in sync with each other: law, nor-ms, market and IT architecture. 

The law would only amount to a guideline to regulate infringements in cyberspace. The norms about ethics which are applicable to society are equally relevant to activities in cyberspace. Every person is driven by financial incentive and therefore, the entertainment industry too would not like others to avail its services free of cost through illegal downloads. 

Avoiding paymentFrom a consumer’s perspective, if any product or service is available without payment, the natural inclination is to avoid payment which distorts market dynamics. The IT architecture enables dissemination of conte-nt without fear of law and destabilises territorial rights. Studies on consumer behaviour related to downloads have highlighted that despite strict punishments, internet users have not refrained from illegal downloads.  

The challenge to implement a court order against infringement of copyright of websites, which contain pirated versions of movies and songs, is an ill-equipped law enforcement mechanism. The number of police personnel trained to tackle such problems are inadequate, given the existing policeman to population ratio is already low. 

Moreover, the state police forces have several other priorities to cope with on a daily basis and copyright infringement proves to be a peripheral issue. Also, courts tend to perceive cases of copyright infringements as ‘luxury’ litigations in the context of socio-economic concerns which characterise a developing economy.   

Today, digital space has transformed almost every facet of life and enabled internet users a wider and deeper access to content like movies, songs, books, software etc, which are otherwise protected under the copyright regime. To that extent, the digital space has democratised knowledge and information at a nominal cost and given rise to digital natives who are much more aware of the political, soci-al and economic developments.  

The advent of the World Wide Web, which just celebrated its silver jubilee, has benefited copyright owners through a provision of a wider market for their works. The flip side of the coin is it makes the same copyright vulnerable to illegal access and distribution.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at the School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru)
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