Court orders turn up the heat on video-sharing websites

Court orders turn up the heat on video-sharing websites

Surabhi Agarwal & Shuchi Bansal
Updated9 May 2012
<br />Photo: Bloomberg<br />
Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Blocking of video-sharing websites through court orders seems to be the latest route the entertainment industry is taking to curtail piracy of films and music over the Internet.

Photo: Bloomberg

While The Pirate Bay is a torrent website, Vimeo is largely used by independent filmmakers to share their work.

Sanjay Tandon, vice-president, music and anti-piracy, Reliance Entertainment, said the company has got a so-called John Doe order from the Delhi high court which directs all Internet service providers (ISPs) to block video-sharing websites, this time not just for a single release but for most big-budget films this year. A John Doe order is directed against someone whose identity isn’t known at the time it is issued.

The company has in the past got a similar court order for its films Singham, Bodyguard and Don2. “The order is a pre-emptive measure taken by us to prevent film piracy. All we require of a website/ISP is to ensure that our film is not available on its website or through its network.” He added that controlling piracy helps boost the company’s business at the box-office by 20%-30%.

“We’ve heard that certain ISPs in India are blocking Vimeo, and we’re looking into it,” a Vimeo spokesperson said. The Pirate Bay could not be reached for comment.

However, compliance with the order doesn’t seem to be universal, with the blocked sites still accessible though some ISP networks.

Of the ISPs which have blocked them, including the company’s affiliate Reliance Communications Ltd, anyone trying to access the websites meets with a message that says: “This site has been blocked as per instructions from the department of telecommunications (DoT).”

The move has caused considerable outrage on micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, with most users construing it as part of an effort to censor the Internet in the country.

“We need to be careful about the nature of orders that are issued; they cannot be generic John Doe orders, with content being blocked en masse, because then the rights of users to access and share legitimate content gets impinged upon,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of the digital industry news and analysis blog MediaNama.

Although the desire of content owners to protect their copyright is understandable, “ISPs overreact and overcompensate, and in order to ensure that they don’t violate either Department of Telecom orders or court orders, they end up infringing upon consumer rights by blocking access en masse,” Pahwa said. Last year, over a dozen file sharing websites including and were banned after Reliance Entertainment got a court order. Recently, R K Productions Pvt. Ltd, the producer of “3” (of the Kolaveri Di song fame) got an interim injunction from the Madras high court directing ISPs against infringing its copyright. Similarly, the Indian Music Industry (IMI), which is a consortium of 142 music companies, got a Calcutta high court order directing all ISPs to block 104 music sites.

“We need specificity in the rulings from courts, and not John Doe orders. We also need detailed clarifications to consumers from ISPs as to what content is being blocked, who has issued the order, and information on how to get the blocks removed,” said Pahwa. Reliance Entertainment’s Tandon, however, said the order does not mandate blocking of the entire website; it only requires them to “restrict access to our content”.

He added that the company had been requesting ISPs for the past three-to-four years to restrict such content. “This is a legal mechanism... ISPs ask us to produce court orders (and) only then they would block the availability of our films.”

Cyber law expert and Supreme Court lawyer Pavan Duggal said that there has been a rise in the issuance of the John Doe order to fight intellectual property (IP) infringement in the country over the last year.

“Violation of IP is increasingly becoming a ground for blocking websites. However, blocking is an antiquated exercise, failed from the word go as primarily it is impossible to block all content on the Internet,” Duggal added.

Uday Singh, managing director of the Motion Pictures Association, said increasingly the opening weekend of a film has become a very important part of the film business as movies are being shown on the Internet or television soon after their theatrical release.

“India is one of the top 10 markets for piracy and it is very important for us to get some kind of relief that the movies are protected adequately.”

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