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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Blocking entire website infringes public’s right of access to information: govt to HC

Blocking entire website infringes public’s right of access to information: govt to HC

Govt also opposes continuing keeping such websites blocked once the event for which they were originally blocked was over

A file photo of the Delhi high court. Photo: HTPremium
A file photo of the Delhi high court. Photo: HT

New Delhi: The department of electronics and information technology on Wednesday opposed the blocking of entire websites following court orders and the use of the government to ensure such blocking in case of copyright disputes.

The department also opposed continuing keeping such websites blocked once the event for which they were originally blocked was over.

The government’s stand was articulated in an appeal seeking the modification of two December 2014 orders passed by Delhi high court justice S.P. Garg ordering over 70 “rogue" websites to be blocked ahead of the India-Australia Cricket Series 2014-15 on a plea by Star India Pvt Ltd, the exclusive rights holder for the series.

Additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain, appearing for the government in the Delhi high court, argued that keeping entire websites blocked following court orders before events such as the cricket series in this case—and even after the event is over—would amount to “injustice". “The series is over, still those websites are blocked. See the injustice aspect in it," Jain said before the bench.

The access to the websites merely on Star India’s apprehension cannot be the basis to stop the general public from accessing information which is not infringing Star India’s rights, the government said in its appeal.

The government has also argued that blocking websites would not serve any purpose as even entire websites can be easily mirrored or hosted on a different domain name or URL and the same principle applies, whether it is a website or a webpage (URL).

Further, since the websites sought to be blocked contain other content which does not belong to the copyright owner seeking to block the website, blocking of entire websites would amount to an abuse of the process of law and may prejudice public interest by interfering with the right of the public at large to access information.

The department also said that Star India could not be allowed to get court orders to block entire websites which would indirectly amount to orders by the government to the Internet service providers in violation of the provisions of the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000. According to the government, section 69A of the IT Act and the relevant rules only permit the government to order blocking access to information under rare circumstances after following an elaborate procedure.

A bench comprising justices B.D. Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva questioned Star India on why it was necessary to block entire websites and continue to keep them blocked.

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for Star India, argued that blocking URLs would not serve the purpose of preventing copyright infringement as they could be easily changed and questioned why the government was supporting the alleged “rogue websites".

The bench observed that the government was concerned about the larger policy of free Internet.

The court has issued notice to Star India and directed that the single judge decide the appeal without being influenced by the observations made in the department’s appeal.

“Blocking the entire website is unconstitutional. When you are blocking a website it is disproportionate to the harm you are seeking to make right; it’s like killing an ant with a nuclear bomb.

You can pass an order to take down the infringing content and if the entirety of the infringing content is a certain URL, you take down that specific URL, not the entire website," said Shamnad Basheer, a former ministry of human resource development chair professor at National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.​

“It is positive to see the government say in the context of this copyright case that the website blocking process under the IT Act should be carefully used—and that blocking entire web domains is harmful. Hopefully, the government will also explain its stance further before the Supreme Court which is hearing separate cases examining its website blocking powers," said lawyer and Internet policy analyst Raman Jit Singh Chima.

Akansha Seth contributed to this story.

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Published: 05 Feb 2015, 12:58 AM IST
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