Using ‘torrent’ applications can land users in copyright trouble

Using ‘torrent’ applications can land users in copyright trouble

Ever felt the urge to grab a copy of your favourite Bond flick even before its video is out in stores? If you did, you could have in your quest come across “torrents". These are peer-to-peer or P2P file sharing protocols that allow the distribution of large amounts of data on the Web such as films, music, software, games, etc., hosted by an initial distributor on the server in order to enable others to download the same.

In order to download a particular file using a P2P program, one can check the software database and connect with another user who may have made the same available for sharing over the Internet.

The principle behind the functioning of torrent applications is similar to that of a P2P program, except that the transfer or sharing of files in a P2P program is between two users, with only one distributor, as against a torrent application where a user would be downloading a file from several users. The torrent software essentially connects to all the users downloading a particular file and compiles the file by acquiring parts of it from each user.

Though torrent websites maintain files of most films, music albums, games, computer programmes, pornography and e-books, they are rarely uploaded by individuals who have the right to distribute such content. Hence, although torrents may have become a rage among Internet users, the legality of the modus operandi is questionable.

Under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, copyright in a work is said to be infringed when any action, the exclusive right to do which vests in the owner of the copyright, is taken without having been granted the licence to do so by the copyright owner. But using copyright protected content for private use does not constitute a copyright infringement.

So users downloading copyright protected content using conventional P2P programs are less likely to attract penal provisions of the Copyright Act as they do not at any stage become distributors of the same. However, when using a torrent, as explained above, a person downloading data even for his private use eventually will become a distributor for other users at the same point and may be committing copyright infringement, punishable with imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to Rs2 lakh.

Torrents may also be used to download pornographic material. Under the Information Technology Act, 2000, a person can be punished for publishing and transmitting pornographic content. If a P2P program is used to download adult content, a person might not be an offender under the Indian Penal Code or the IT Act as he is not distributing, publishing, transmitting or selling such content and is merely downloading it for private use (though there are no judicial precedents to confirm the same). But by using a torrent application a person unknowingly distributes the content that he may be downloading for private use and hence may be subject to punitive action.

So whereas the person who initially uploads the content commits an offence under Indian law, persons downloading such content may also be considered to be in breach of law in the case of torrents, unless they use torrent applications that do not require them to upload the same.

So, to be on the right side of law, one can use torrent sites that have the right to distribute such content, or simply buy the original and discourage piracy!

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This column is contributed by Ravi Bhasin of AZB & Partners, Advocates &Solicitors.