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Visiting blocked websites is not Illegal in India, Bombay HC confirms

If you read news websites regularly, you might have across some reports which claimed that visiting blocked websites, and torrent websites is a punishable offence in India, which could land the person in prison for 3 years. This was based on an improperly worded statement, by a copyright management firm, which was actually originally intended to serve as a warning for users of a service provider.

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Naturally such a message caused a panic amongst users. who began circulating the message on social media and on chat services like WhatsApp.

Even I got enquiries from friends, who asked me if it is true, and whether visiting a torrent website is now a crime. I was aware of what the message posted on the websites, thanks to some professional media reports, which denied the statement was true, and informed my friends accordingly.

Now, coming back to the news at hand, this issue about blocked websites, was recently raised in the Bombay High Court, and now Justice Patel of the Bombay HC, has officially ordered ISPs to edit the misleading message displayed on such websites, to inform the user why the website is blocked, and what the user is prohibited from doing on the website.

NDTV quotes Prasanth Sugathan, Counsel at the Software Freedom Law Centre India, who explained this by stating:

"Visiting any website, even if it is a blocked site, is not illegal either under the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957 or the Information Technology Act, 2000.The only exception could be if a person views child pornography."

The newer message displayed on blocked websites, now clearly says that “Infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content including under this URL is an offence in law.” under the Copyright Act, 1957.

So, it is only when you download copyrighted material being distributed without permission, that is a crime. Visiting the webpage which has such content is not.

A lot of content on torrent websites aren’t illegal at all, for example: open source software like Libre Office, Ubuntu operating system (Linux based distro) are available via peer to peer sharing. And some musicians and actors even publicly make their work available for free via Torrents, because they do not have resources to market their movies and songs/albums. So, not all torrents are bad, and blocking such legitimate content is actually harmful to people who depend on it for their work. So we have to be thankful, that our country is not restricting our internet freedom.

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