File-sharing site blocking flags up internet freedom

After the recent controversy over the draft notification of the IT Act focussing on bloggers and blocking of certain websites, internet freedom is in the news again, with the blocking of various file-sharing websites by internet service providers.

Amid much confusion, it turned out that Reliance Big Pictures served on the Indian service providers, including Airtel and BSNL, a John Doe order that the Delhi High Court granted to prevent the sharing or downloading of its movie, Singham, before its release.

John Doe order

“We are aware that any movie that is released gets pirated the same day or is available the very next day. The John Doe order [the injunction against potential violators without anyone being named specifically]…ensured that making Singham available before its release without a valid licence became illegal. This included piracy through cable, internet or DVDs,” says Sanjay Tandon, vice-president, music and anti-piracy, Reliance Entertainment.

The service providers' action sparked protest, with hundreds of blog posts and tweets, an online petition and a Facebook page against the ban and regulations on websites and downloads. Airtel clarified a day later that the file-sharing websites resumed functioning.

Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher, Medianama, which first publicised the issue, feels the block is similar to the one in March where Airtel and a few other service providers had blocked access to a few sites.

“Then, in its response to an RTI application filed by us, the Department of Telecom said it had not ordered the service providers to block the sites in question. This time too, the action is without a DoT instruction, and what is unfortunate is that the service providers have blocked whole sites, while the court order was directed only at one movie. This is arbitrary,” Mr. Pahwa says.

The issue has cropped up at a time when several countries, including Iran, Turkey, New Zealand, Malaysia and even the United States, have service providers taking initiatives on blocking file-sharing sites.

“This is the first time such an order has been used to cover digital privacy issues. This is bad news for those who have paid accounts on these websites and use them on a regular basis to share documents and presentations,” says Raman Khosla, a member of Mega Uploads.

Detailed procedure

This might send across a message that a notice can be served on the service providers without a court order, says Mr. Pahwa. “Business houses have done this to protect their copyrights, but the service providers need to know that people use file-sharing sites for a variety of reasons other than piracy. What we need is a more detailed procedure, not arbitrary blockings.”

Sites, including Torrent, which work on a distributed form of sharing uploaded pieces of content from multiple users have not been affected.

This seems to defeat the purpose of the attempt by stakeholders to prevent the video market from going the audio market way.

Anantharaman Mani, of the Society for Rich Internet Application and Rich User Interface, says merely blocking file-sharing sites will not solve the problem. “To manipulate and block the internet for specific corporate interests does not seem right. This is happening only because there is no strong community of internet users to question such acts.”

Bandwidth issues

Given that there are bandwidth issues in this country and the time needed for downloading from file-sharing sites, people would rather buy the pirated CDs, DVDs available for under Rs.100, says S. Saravanan, deputy manager, Moser Baer. He wonders whether such bans will work for every movie.

And the experience of downloading movies is not good for everyone in India. One solution to piracy, therefore, is to allow legitimate ways for users to download movies, says Shanujit Bhujabal, director (marketing), Sony Music.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2020 10:17:32 PM |

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