India’s Recording Industry Wants The Power To Take Down Content Without Notification

India’s copyright laws are a bit of a mess right now. Late last year, at the request of a movie studio, ISPs were instructed by an Indian court to block several file sharing sites. A full blockade was set up, eliminating access to complete sites, rather than specifically targeting the offending files. Six months later, the Indian government ordered another round of ISP-level blocks, this time taking out access to another set of file lockers and, for some reason, Vimeo. Then, once you thought you had India’s government pinned down as an overzealous anti-piracy enforcer for the movie industry, an ISP found itself being fined by a consumer group for going too far with its blockage.

Well, it would appear the dust has settled momentarily as new legislation is discussed, and India’s government is, at the moment, still an overzealous anti-piracy enforcer. This time, however, it’s the music industry that’s looking to have the government expand its enforcement. The Indian Music Industry has filed a petition in support of India’s IT Rules. This has been filed in response to Shojan Jacob’s petition challenging the constitutionality of the proposed rules.

What the music industry is interested in is the powers granted by the IT Rules, which allow content to be taken down within 36 hours, without any notice to the content creator or uploader. There’s no doubt many in the content industry would like such a rule to be implemented worldwide, but considering how many bogus DMCA takedowns there are, it would definitely be a bad thing for anyone not protected by the legislation.

The Indian Music Industry cites the following in support of its wish to unilaterally zap content off the net without having to be troubled with trifling details like court orders or if the content is actually infringing. It would rather streamline the process into a shoot-first-ask-questions-never free-for-all.

– The Internet is the fastest and most widespread medium for diffusion of sound recordings in digital form. This is done through ISPs.

– Many websites allow streaming, reproducing, adapting, distributing, communication, transmitting, disseminating or displaying and downloading songs, without taking any license from copyright owners. Owners of websites are unknown, and it’s impossible to track. However, ISPs have details of the owners of the website, and it is practically impossible for copyright owners to take action against people located outside India.

– The IT Rules allow the designated officers to block the contents of the website.

While a majority of what’s stated is factual, it’s a rather big leap to go from “the internet makes it easy to copy” to “let us decide what’s infringing and simply have it removed without notifying anyone.” And the pointing at ISPs as somehow being contributors to infringement is a rhetorical tactic nearly as old at the internet itself. It’s based on the faulty assumption that people wouldn’t purchase internet access if they couldn’t help themselves to infringing content, plainly ignoring the thousands of legitimate uses ISPs facilitate every day.

But what exists already in India, as skewed as it is towards copyright holders, simply isn’t good enough. IMI wants more.

Did the Indian Music Industry need the IT Rules to get those 104 websites blocked? We think not. Can they still get content blocked without the IT Rules? Yes they can. What the IT Rules do is that allow the IMI to go into overdrive, and block access to websites through ISPs and domain registrars, without going to court. In their current form, the IT Rules assume that the complainant is always right, and put intermediaries (ISPs, websites etc) under pressure to act-or-be-taken-to-court; the IT Rules don’t offer proper recourse to someone whose content is being blocked, which is something that the reworking of the IT Rules should allow.

That seems to be the case the world over. The endless pressure from these industries for more expansionist policies and fewer options for recourse is now the standard operating procedure. IMI will probably find a strong ally in the Indian government if the recent past is any indication. Most governments are looking for ways to control what their citizens say and do on the internet and the IT Rules, if left unchanged, give the Indian government the perfect backdoor towards more censorship.

The copyright protection clause in the IT Rules isn’t the problem: the issue is with other provisions related to broad terms used to define intermediaries and some of the subjective and broad provisions under which content can be taken down (grossly harmful, disparaging, impacting friendly relations between nations and suchlike), apart from the fact that the rules don’t provide for adequate transparency and recourse, which impinges on freedom of expression…

Between the copyright industries and a seemingly natural tendency for governments to impose as much control on the “wild west” internet as possible, India’s IT Rules are bad news for anyone not on the inside of these entities.

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