Three months after upsetting thousands of Internet users with its overzealous implementation of the Madras High Court’s privacy prevention order, Internet Service Provider (ISP) Airtel has now been penalised by a Karnataka consumer forum.

Airtel, along with a host of other ISPs, blocked a number of torrent and video-sharing websites, in May, following a Madras High Court issued ‘John Doe’ order taken by Chennai-based Copyright Labs. Copyright Labs were hired by the producers of movies ‘3’ and ‘Dammu’ to prevent online piracy.

However, following a petition by Vinay B, a resident of Shimoga, the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum at Shimoga has directed Airtel to pay Rs. 20,000 for ‘deficiency in Internet service’ thereby causing mental agony to the complainant.

According to the forum, Airtel had provided deficient service by blocking the websites illegally while justifying their actions through misinterpretation of the court order.

“By misinterpreting the Madras High Court order, Airtel blocked entire websites. It is needless to say that the company’s actions amount to deficiency in service as well as unfair trade practice,” said the forum.

The illegality of the ISP-block came into question when Harish Ram, CEO of Copyright Labs claimed that the ISPs had misinterpreted the court order and said that the court had only allowed blocking of specific URL’s that infringed on the movies’ copyrights.

However, an RTI(Right to Information) filed by the Software Freedom Law Center in New Delhi reveals that Copyright Labs had asked MTNL for indiscriminate blocking of whole websites, a gross misrepresentation of the original judicial order which allowed for only specific URL blocking.

Global anti-piracy actions

The ISP-block in May as well as in February, when a Kolkata High Court shut down over a hundred music websites on grounds of copyright infringement, speaks of a larger-coordinated anti-piracy effort by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

A recently leaked report, put together by IFPI’s Head of Internet Anti-Piracy Operations, Mo Ali – indicates how ISP blocks prove to be an effective measure in curbing piracy. There is, however, a constant push and pull between measures that stamp out copyright infringement and infringement of internet usage.

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