It played out like a badly scripted film that leaves none the wiser in the end.

Recently, the Anti-Piracy Cell of the State Police took an unprecedented step by slapping cases against more than a thousand persons who “uploaded or downloaded” the pirated version of the Malayalam film Bachelor Party.

But sustaining the heat against online piracy isn’t as easy as swooping down on a knockoff marketplace because neither the police nor those from the film industry, has clarity on how to go about checking online piracy.

On the positive side, it foregrounded the issue of online piracy as never before. But it is being debated hotly whether it made sense to strike the illegal downloaders like a bolt from the blue, without giving repeated warnings them to get off the bootleg websites.

The main player, the Anti-Piracy Cell, seems to be on a loose ground. To begin with, a team headed by a Superintendent of Police and comprising one Deputy Superintendent of Police and two sub-inspectors are supposed to trawl the Internet and spot copyright violations.

“Even though the film industry stands to benefit from our work, they have not been supporting us. It is not possible to monitor the online activities round the clock with this bare minimum staff. We need to think on the lines of a new piece of legislation that came up in the U. K. where the Internet Service Provider is held responsible for illegal downloads,” says Rajpal Meena, Superintendent of Police, Anti-Piracy Cell, State Police.

The Anti-Piracy Cell is also not sure whether their action will be legally binding or not. During the preliminary investigation it was found that Bachelor Party was viewed “illegally” by people across the world. Again, there is little clarity whether watching the film as streaming video is an offence.

“Every online activity involves downloading material to the local machine and by that standards, even streaming videos are downloaded. But the Copyright Act is clear about exempting material stored for personal use. It means, there is an expressed permission under the law for downloading and viewing material for personal use,” points out N.S. Gopalakrishnan, Director of the School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology.

At one end, the law enforcers are asking for more powers (citing that the film industry in Andhra Pradesh set up their anti-piracy unit), legal experts like Dr. Gopalakrishnan call for more clarity in the steps initiated. “I believe a majority is confusing provisions of the Copyright Act with that of IT Act. The basic principle of the Copyright Act is to facilitate access to information and a common man visiting the Internet need not check whether material available online is pirated or genuine. It is absurd to treat such activities as an offence,” says Dr. Gopalakrishnan.

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