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Viewing Pirated Content Online Is Not a Punishable Offence: Bombay HC Clarifies


The Bombay High Court, on Monday, clarified that merely viewing pirated content online cannot be considered to be a punishable offence under the Copyright Act. “The offence is not in viewing, but in making a prejudicial distribution, a public exhibition or letting for sale or hire without appropriate permission copyright-protected material,” said Justice Gautam Patel.

This means that no one can be penalised for visiting a blocked torrent website.


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It is important to remember that different sections of the copyright act mostly mention possession, infringement and distribution. But they do not talk about how viewing a blocked website could be illegal. In July, the HC acted on a plea from the producers of the film Dishoom, and directed Internet Service Providers to block URLs where illegal downloads are available. So currently, if consumers visit a torrent website that is blocked by ISPs, they receive an error message saying that they can be penalised for even visiting a website where illegal content is hosted.


Justice Gautam Patel asked ISPs to drop the line “viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating’ a particular film is a penal offence” from the error message. The HC also ordered ISPs to put up a more generic message along with details of a nodal officer that users can contact to address grievances. The message must include, “Infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content including under this URL is an offence in law. Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957, read with Section 51, prescribe penalties of a prison term of up to 3 years and a fine of up to Rs 3 lakh.”

The contact number of the nodal officer must be displayed along with the error message and the officer must respond to all complaints within two working days.

Find details about the copyright act here.


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