The Delhi High Court has permanently restrained 30 torrent sites from hosting, streaming, reproducing, distributing or making available to the public by any means the movies, music, shows or any content which violates the copyright of film production companies like Twentieth Century Fox and UTV Software. Justice Manmohan, in the order, directed internet service providers (ISPs), like Airtel, Reliance Jio and MTNL, to block access to these websites.
Directions were also issued by the court to the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) to ensure that the ISPs registered with them block access to such "rogue websites". While issuing the directions based on a plea by the film production companies, the court said website blocking was a "cumbersome exercise" and majority of the viewers who access and download the infringing content are youngsters who are unaware that the content is pirated.
It directed the DoT and the MEITY to "explore the possibility of framing a policy under which a warning is issued to the viewers of the infringing content, if technologically feasible in the form of e-mails, or pop-ups or such other modes, cautioning the viewers to cease viewing/downloading the infringing material. "In the event, the warning is not heeded to and the viewers/subscribers continue to view, access or download the infringing/pirated content, then a fine could be levied on the viewers/subscribers," the court said.
It added that such a measure would go a long way in curbing piracy and the dark-net as well as in "promoting the legal content and accelerating the pace of Digital India". The court, in its 99-page verdict, also noted that such websites were "hydra-headed", who on being blocked, "actually multiply and resurface as alphanumeric or mirror websites".
Therefore, to meet the ends of justice and address the menace of piracy by such hydra-headed websites, the court permitted the plaintiff production companies to implead as a party in the matter the mirror/redirect/alphanumeric websites. However, the plaintiffs would have to file affidavits confirming that the newly impleaded sites are a mirror/redirect/alphanumeric website along with "sufficient
supporting evidence". "On being satisfied that the impugned website is indeed a mirror/redirect/alphanumeric website of injuncted rogue website(s) and merely provides new means of accessing the same primary infringing website, the Joint Registrar (of the high court) shall issue directions to ISPs to disable access in India to such mirror/redirect/alphanumeric websites in terms of the orders passed," the court said.
The court, while allowing blocking of the infringing websites, said such an action "should be proportionate and commensurate with the extent and nature of the infringement". "In fact, a court should pass a website blocking order only if it is satisfied that the same is necessary and proportionate," it added.
It also said that while blocking a site was "antithetical to efforts to preserve a free and open internet, it does not mean that every website should be freely accessible". "Even the most vocal supporters of internet freedom recognise that it is legitimate to remove or limit access to some materials online, such as sites that facilitate child pornography and terrorism. Undoubtedly, there is a serious concern associated with blocking orders that it may prevent access to legitimate content.
"There is need for a balance in the approach and policies to avoid unnecessary cost or impact on other interests and rights. Consequently, the onus is on the right holders to prove to the satisfaction of the court that each website they want to block is primarily facilitating widespread copyright infringement," the court said.
The judgement came on eight suits filed by UTV and Twentieth Century Fox seeking a permanent injunction restraining infringement of their copyright by torrent websites like rarbg, yts, extratorrent and pirate bay, which were communicating to the public the companies' original content/cinematographic works without authorisation.
(With inputs from agencies.)