Friday, January 13, 2012

Has Reliance Entertainment Blocked Websites Illegally In India?

Broadly speaking, websites blocking in India can be done either by a court order or by an order of competent authority of Indian government. There is nothing that allows private individuals or companies to block websites on their own and in their self interests. It is also now well settled that Indian government can and should block offending websites if they fail to comply with Indian laws.

Many US based websites and social media platforms are showing great reluctance to comply with Indian laws and requests originating out of the same. These include companies like WordPress, Google, Facebook, etc. Similarly, many Indian websites may be involved in copyright violations and other contraventions and may not be responsive to demands originating from US. Naturally, countries have no other option but to block such websites in their respective jurisdictions either by a court order or by enacting draconian laws like SOPA and PIPA.

However, such blocking of websites by any country must be done in a proper manner. According to Praveen Dalal, managing partner of law firm Perry4Law and leading techno legal expert of India, Websites Blocking in India by Judiciary must be Just, Reasonable and Fair. There should not be an “Unreasonable” or “Casual Approach” towards Blocking of Websites in India by Indian Courts. If Websites are “Violating” Laws of India and they have been “Notified” to this effect and still they “do not Remedy the Situation”, then the Safe Harbour Protection under Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 is “Lost” and such Websites/Owners can be Prosecuted in India, informs Praveen Dalal.

Such Websites can be “Legally Blocked” in India if they fail to “Comply” with Court’s Directions or Directions of Indian Government Agencies like Computer Emergency Response Team, India (CERT-IN) that are duly ordered in this regard by a Designated Officer, informs Praveen Dalal.

In this background we must analyse the recent blocking of foreign websites in India. Recently, Reliance Entertainment has once again convinced the court to issue an order in its favour or at least it is interpreting it so. The broadband customers of Reliance were not able to access certain legitimate file sharing/hosting websites as Reliance blocked such sites. Hints have been given that CERT-In has not been involved in this process at all and Reliance blocked the website unilaterally. The same websites were accessible on the networks of other ISPs.

Naturally, the question arises has the Delhi High Court ordered such blocking of websites? The relevant portion of order of Delhi High Court reads:

“One can also not lose sight of the fact that film piracy in respect of such new release is not uncommon and judicial note of this fact can be taken. In the facts of this case as detailed above, in my view plaintiff (Reliance) has succeeded in making a, prima facie, case in its favour. Plaintiff has exclusive copyright over the film “DON2” which is yet to be released. For the forgoing reasons, defendants and other unnamed and undisclosed persons (websites), are restrained from copying, recording or allowing camcording or communicating or making available or distributing, or duplicating, or displaying, or releasing, or showing, or uploading, or downloading, or exhibiting, or playing, and/or defraying the movie “DON2” in any manner without a proper license from the plaintiff or in any other manner which would violate/infringe the plaintiff’s copyright in the said cinematograph film “DON2” through different mediums like CD, DVD, Blue- ray disc, VCD, Cable TV, DTH, Internet services, MMS, Pen drives, Hard drives, Tapes, CAS or in any other like manner”.

Obviously this is a simple order of temporary injunctions and not blocking of any website whatsoever. On what basis Reliance Entertainment, as an Internet service provider (ISP), blocked websites in question is still not clear. In fact, from the bare reading of these facts and order, it seems Reliance Entertainment illegally blocked such websites in India.

Cert-In must investigate this matter unless it has itself given permission to block such websites. However, this does not seem to be the case and now it is for the Reliance Entertainment and Cert-In to explain this unreasonable websites blocking and Internet censorship behaviour.