‘Copyright’ Issues And Curbs On Freedom Yet Hazy

By Gajanan Khergamker

With the State arbitrarily banning sites, even interpreting ‘to its own convenience’, a court’s John Doe orders and the police swift with  action on FB comments only underline the fact that true e-freedom is yet out of reach.

India’s Information Technology Act has been in the news of late and for all the wrong reasons. It all started with unceremonious blockage of various file-sharing websites like torrent, daily motion, piratebay etc., due to a John Doe order passed by Madras High Court.

The Madras HC ordered the blocking of various sites because of a suit filed by a Copyrights Labs for preventing privacy of a Tamil film ‘3’. For a while, the limelight was on the two Thane-based girls, following one posting a comment on Facebook questioning the purpose of bandh in Maharashtra after the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and the other ‘liking’ the comment.

The banning of various websites in last May had caused an uproar among various groups supporting internet freedom. The ban that most Internet Service Providers like Airtel, Vodafone India, Relaince, MTNL, Aircel, BSNL, Hathway Cable and Datacom endorsed lasted for around a month.

Users urged to file RTI pleas on issue

It was this month-long ban that invoked Hactivist Anonymous Operation India to urge people to file RTI applications to fight internet censorship. The group asked Indian citizens to file RTI application to seek information regarding the correspondence of public servants with Google, Facebook or other websites on content censorship.

The Hactivist Anonymous Operation India had reportedly mentioned the data collated from the reply to the RTI applications filed will be used in a ‘more powerful way.’

Reportedly, an RTI application filed by Software Freedom Law Centre, Delhi revealed that agents of copyright owners mis-interpreted the courts’ order to their own convenience and demanded around 38 ISPs to block as many as 272 websites.

With the IT act barely a decade old, there seems to be a lot of glitches that still needs to be looked into. Around the same time, Communication Minister KapilSibal came down heavily on websites like Facebook, Yahoo, Google and YouTube and asked them to filter ‘inflammatory’ and ‘defamatory’ content from their websites. This reaction was evoked after some morphed images of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

KapilSibal promised ‘stern action’ against the websites that failed to act. At that time, the government circulated rules which made it necessary for internet intermediaries like Facebook, Yahoo and YouTube to exercise due diligence to block material deemed, “threatening, abusive, harassing, blasphemous, objectionable, defamatory or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever.”

FB comment hurts public sentiments

So, when a Thane-based girl posted a comment questioning the necessity of the bandh for Bal Thackeray’s funeral and another friend who like the comment, was arrested by the police for ‘hurting religious sentiments’ KapilSibal said that he was ‘saddened’ by the news of the girls’ arrest and that the IT act was being ‘misused’ to ‘throttle dissent.’

And, now a month after the comment was posted on FB by the girl, the charge-sheet filed had been dropped and the police will be submitting a closure report before the court.

IT ACT SET FOR AN AMENDMENT OF SORTS

After all this drama, KapilSibal decided to modify the 66A act and the outcome is this -  now a report can be filed under the IT Act only after the approval of either Commissioner of Police or the Inspector General. This modification will ensure that there is some application of mind before any action is taken. While the communication minister’s defended the section saying similar laws are present in the US and the UK, experts do not agree with his views.

The IT laws in UK and US are mandated by the definite parliamentary acts; In India, it is far from it. And, as pointed out by experts, the new modification contradicts with section 78 and 80 that states that “a police officer of the rank of inspector can not only register a complaint but can also search a public premises without a warrant.”

Whatever the law, people should maintain some amount of discretion on social networking sites and on internet in general, so as to not invoke violence or harsh reaction from the masses that leads to the State’s loss.

Situation PROBABLY worse in the west

And, when compared to West, there have been instances where people have been fired from their jobs over posts on social networking sites.

Just last month, a sports anchor suspended from an entertainment news channel eNews for his post of twitter. Reportedly, the sports reporter had tweeted “Linkin Park is so bad**s people are dying to see ‘em.” He posted this after a fan was killed and 19 others were injured during an accident that occurred at the Linkin Park’s concert in South Africa.

This is not the first time that a post on social networking site had cost a person his job. This month, a civil servant was sacked from his job after allegedly posting ‘injurious’ comment about Governor Isa Yuguda on Facebook.

Reportedly, a year back, six workers fired by a Sheriff of a US town were charged with having, “hindered the harmony and efficiency of the office.” This was an outcome of “liking the Facebook page of the man who was running against the current sheriff for the office of sheriff.”

In 2009, it was reported that a Washington State Patrol Cadet was forced to resign from his job after he posted less-than-professional-type comments; images of him drinking, as it did not present a good image for the state patrol.

Around the same time, figures revealed that over 150 police officers had been hit with disciplinary action in the west, over posting inappropriate comment and pictures on Facebook.

And not just civil servants, in October, a Canadian man was fired from his job after he posted ‘sick’ comments on a memorial page of a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide because of internet bullies.

Another man was arrested in UK was arrested after a reportedly a Facebook page was set up to laud suspected police double killer Dale Cregan as a ‘legend.’

So, even in the West, discretion is supposed to be maintained on social networking sites and people posting objectionable comments and pictures are punished, which will soon be the case in India as well.

(Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured here)