Indian ISPs Unblock BitTorrent Sites After Appeal

Millions of Indians can today breathe a sigh of relief. They are once again able to access their favorite file-sharing sites, including The Pirate Bay and Torrentz.eu, after a consortium of ISPs appealed a broad censorship order. The Madras High Court specified an earlier decision and ruled that Internet providers no longer have to block entire websites to prevent a single movie from being shared online.

Last month millions of Indians were shaken up by what appeared to be a mass anti-piracy action from the Government.

Many of the country’s leading Internet providers had blocked access to a wide range of file-sharing and streaming sites including Torrentz.eu, The Pirate Bay and Vimeo.

It turned out that the ISPs in question were responding to a so-called “John Doe” court order under which they had to prevent users from sharing the movie Dhammu. Responding to this request, many ISPs saw no other option than to block a wide range of sites in their entirety.

The court order wasn’t targeted at a specific site or ISP and gave the copyright holder carte blanche to demand broad blockades. The ISPs were seen as the bad guys by subscribers and “Anonymous” groups, but had no other option than to comply.

Behind the scenes, however, a consortium of Internet providers decided to appeal the broad court order. These ISPs felt they were being “wrongfully vilified on the Internet” and argued that the broad blockades also prevented the public from accessing many legitimate files.

The Madras High Court sided with the ISPs and ruled that the copyright holder can’t demand broad takedowns. The Indian news site Medianama has a copy of the order which specifically states that the copyright holder has to list the infringing URL, instead of demanding the shutoff of an entire website.

“The order of interim injunction dated 25/04/2012 is hereby clarified that the interim injunction is granted only in respect of a particular URL where the infringing movie is kept and not in respect of the entire website. Further, the applicant is directed to inform about the particulars of URL where the interim movie is kept within 48 hours.”

The order came in late last week, and in the days that followed millions of Indians regained access to their favorite file-sharing sites.

While the copyright holders are bound to be disappointed by the new restrictions, the new order prevents needless and broad censorship of legitimate files. To protect the rights of one movie, tens of thousands of independent artists saw their work being blocked, which can’t be good.

The first John Doe order targeted at file-sharing sites was issued last summer, followed by a handful of others. Whether the Madras High Court ruling is the end of the catch-all John Doe orders has yet to be seen, but it’s clear that ISPs are now prepared to put up a fight.

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