Internet users were in for a shock while visiting torrent websites yesterday as they faced a new warning. Department of Telecommunications has asked major ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to start blocking the torrent sites and serve warnings to people visiting them. According to the new warning, you can face three years in prison and a penalty of Rs 3 lakh.
The warning reads "This URL has been blocked under the instructions of the Competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, including but not limited to under Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957 which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of upto Rs. 3,00,000/-. Any person aggrieved by any such blocking of this URL may contact at email@example.com who will, within 48 hours, provide you the details of relevant proceedings under which you can approach the relevant High Court or Authority for redressal of your grievance."
The language of the warning is vague at best without any proper guidelines or announcement done by either Department of Telecommunications or the Government of India. According to the warning 'viewing', 'downloading', 'exhibiting' or 'duplicating' 'an illicit copy of content under this URL' is deemed as a punishable offence according to Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act of 1957.
The ironic part about the language is that even visiting as termed as 'viewing' the content is illegal. Though it can be argued that the 'viewing' refers to watching an illicit copy of movies or television shows downloaded from the website. But the main issue is that it outlaws many legal uses of the torrent that are primarily used by independent artists and businesses to distribute and transfer their content.
To put this in perspective, Ubuntu, one of the most popular Linux distribution used by a lot of users and advocates open source as the driving force. The company uses torrents as on of the alternative source to distribute their operating system. This move will, in theory, make it illegal for you to go the torrent site and search for Ubuntu and download it. This will majorly impact the way internet users use the internet in the country.
At the time of writing the warning had started rolling out on MTNL connections in addition to Airtel and Tata. We did not experience any issue or warning on bypassing it using 'https' method while we did face either the warning or we could not connect to the website while trying to access major torrenting websites. IndiaToday was the first one to report this and there are no official announcements on the issue as of writing.