It's been a confusing fortnight if you are an Internet user in India. Earlier this month, reports emerged that Reliance Communications was blocking popular torrent website The Pirate Bay and video-sharing site Vimeo. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) didn't bother to share any details with the affected users except a message that said, "The site has been blocked as per instructions from the Department of Telecom".
Airtel users trying to log in to Vimeo this morning were in for a rude shock. The video-sharing website, and others, Dailymotion and The Pirate Bay amongst them, have been blocked by the ISP. Users trying to visit the said websites are greeted by a message that says, "Access to this site has been blocked as per Court Orders".
But the blockage doesn't seem to be uniform. While Airtel users in Bangalore and Delhi have reported inability to access these websites, Airtel subscribers in Rajasthan seem to be able to browse them just fine. Interestingly, some Reliance users report they are now able to access the blocked websites, so are Airtel and Reliance acting under different orders?
The Airtel statement issued to NDTV was no more helpful than the cryptic message on their website, saying "Access to certain sites has been blocked by Airtel pursuant to and in compliance with Court orders". Reliance Communication's statement was only slightly forthcoming than Airtel's - "Under Section 79 of the IT Act, an ISP has to adhere to any copyright infringement notice and court orders".
No word from either company on the exact reasons behind the ban or how long it will last.
Another name mentioned in various reports today is that of Chennai-based Copyright Labs, who obtained a court order against various ISPs way back in March to prevent illegal distribution of their movie "3". In the absence of any real information from the ISPs, it's impossible to say if the current ban is in any way linked to that order, especially since the order
itself does not name any websites.
Reliance Entertainment is another company that has been blamed by many for some of these orders, especially since a lot these bans coincide with big movie releases from the company. Sanjay Tandon, Vice-President, Music & Anti-Piracy, Reliance Entertainment defended the practice saying, "All websites like Megaupload and Filesonic are located out of India and such sites rampantly promote online piracy. In fact, steps such as the John Doe order are the only step that we copyright owners are left with."
Meanwhile, suffering customers are enraged at the heavy-handed tactics of those in charge. They don't care if a court ordered shutdown of these websites, or if the ISPs are taking these steps themselves, they're just looking for a common-sense approach in such issues. Blocking entire websites due to the presence of some copyrighted material is plain silly, and selective blocking of offending URLs would surely work better.Is your ISP blocking websites? What do you make of this controversy? Send us your comments via Facebook or Twitter.