Udta Punjab, Mohalla Assi, Paanch, and Tera Kya Hoga Johnny. What do all these movies have in common? They were all leaked online before release. Full-length copies of the movies were available for download days before the movies were released. This was cruelly ironic in the case of Paanch and Mohalla Assi, movies that could never be released commercially but are available for download on the internet.
Of course, torrents are available for all movies, a few days after release. So are torrent’s evil?
To answer that we should go beyond looking at things in black and white and see the grey matter in between.
Growing up in the 90s, you didn’t have a lot of options for consuming content. The internet was patchy (Dial-up nightmares) and while the Cable Television Boom had happened, the variety of content was still limited. This changed when internet connectivity improved and torrents came along. Let’s say you wanted to watch Friends. Your options were to either watch one episode a week on TV or get the DVD. With most households having one TV, it was a struggle to get the TV to yourself, while DVDs were mythical, elusive things, so expensive that you would never consciously buy them. Torrent’s changed everything. With them, you could have all the seasons of any series on your system, watch them anytime, anywhere, with only the cost of internet to factor in (which gets cheaper every year). Of course, it is illegal, but it gave a lot of people access to content that they could never have afforded before.
Nothing sways the law though, and it is dispassionately neutral. So what does it say about downloading movies?
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Is it all right to download movies from websites like The Pirate Bay?
It depends. Some content on websites such as The Pirate Bay is freely licensed, meaning that you have the owner’s permission to download and share these works freely.
However, most of the content on such websites is protected by copyright and unauthorized downloading of such content is considered copyright infringement.
As a rule of thumb, most movies by large production houses are usually protected by copyright, and it is illegal to download them off websites such as The Pirate Bay. Yes, if you are watching Baahubali 2 in the week of its release, you can be pretty sure that you are doing it illegally!
Is it ethically right to download or stream content online remains a long raging debate. Perhaps this video could give some insight.
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Will I go to jail or be fined for downloading a movie illegally?
Yes, if it is shown in a court that you knowingly infringe or help someone else infringe the copyright in the movie by downloading it. The court will assume that you knew of the infringement because in most cases the movie contains a watermark or notice which clearly indicates that it is a copyrighted work.
Under the law, the punishment if you are being convicted for the first offence is jail time between six months and three years, with a fine between Rs 50,000 and Rs 200,000. However, it is worth mentioning that there aren’t many reported cases of actual prosecution for downloading movies online. Typically, the person who owns the copyright in the movie would only try to block the URL (through take-down notices or court orders).
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Under the law, the punishment for doing this again after you’ve already been punished once is more severe.
If you are caught doing this more than once, the jail time could range between one and three years along with a fine between Rs 100,000 and Rs 200,000.
However, you may receive a shorter jail term or fine if the court is convinced that your infringement was not commercial in nature (for personal use, rather than to sell or rent out).
Shouldn’t I be given a warning first, before the police act against me?
The law does not require the police to give you notice or a warning before it registers a complaint or takes action. Any sub-inspector or higher-ranked police officer can seize all unauthorized copies of a copyrighted work, and the apparatus used to make these copies. Typically, this involves a seizure of the computer in which the infringing copy is located.
The officer is not required to obtain a warrant (or permission from the court) before conducting the seizure and can seize property even on the suspicion that it may be used to commit infringement.
What copyright laws apply to Indian residents?
The Copyright Act, 1957 is applicable throughout India, and also protects movies made abroad. Foreign laws such as America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998 do not bind people living in India, and no criminal action can be taken against you in India under these laws if you are downloading copyrighted movies in India.
India is seeing a digital content boom. There are so many different mediums from which people can consume a wide variety of content. As more people are getting online, the demand for varied content, in different mediums, will not get over anytime soon. This is great for consumers, but we need the law to keep pace as well. While advances in content distribution and internet connectivity provide huge potential for increasing access to content, unless it is supported by the law, such access could be criminal.
The law needs to accommodate this boom so that access to content is easy, affordable, and most importantly legal.
Check out this simple explainer to know more about the law on downloading movies.