If you live in India, and have recently visited The Pirate Bay in search of torrents for movies and music, you might have seen a message that reads like this:
“Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, […] which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of up to Rs. 3,00,000.”
Scary, isn’t it? The idea that simply visiting a website and viewing an ill-gotten movie could land you in the slammer for three years, and cost you the equivalent of $4,500 certainly scares me.
According to TorrentFreak, this led to an unprecedented level of scaremongering in the Indian press, with some reporters even claiming that downloading a .torrent file, or viewing a copyrighted picture could put you on the wrong side of the law.
The problem is that viewing illegally-downloaded content isn’t the problem: Sharing it with others is.
Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed. Judge G.S. Patel recently ordered Tata Communications, which administers the block for various residential ISPs, to amend the message to simply say that “infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content” is an offense under Indian law.
“The offense is not in viewing, but in making a prejudicial distribution, a public exhibition or letting for sale or hire without appropriate permission copyright–protected material,” Judge Patel wrote in an edict.
He added, “These error pages appear to have confused the penal provisions regarding obscenity with penalties under the Copyright Act, 1957.”
As TorrentFreak pointed out, people who distribute content via BitTorrent can still end up in jail. Given that to download something with BitTorrent, you often upload the file you’re downloading, this puts a lot of people in an awkward position. But this has always been the case in India, and is also true in a great many other countries.