from the street sweeper for justice dept
How many innocents would you accept being caught up in an action designed to nab criminals? How many good people is it acceptable to throw into jail alongside the truly bad actors? Most people would agree that any action that penalizes the innocent in order to punish the guilty is a bad course, with only truly minimal amounts of collateral damage being acceptable. Now let’s port that over to internet sites and ask how many innocent websites is it acceptable to block in order to block sites that are actually engaged in undesirable behavior?
Well, for the legal system in India, that question has often been answered in a cavalier manner, with regular court orders to block innocent websites being doled out to battle both terrorism and at the request of copyright holders to stop infringement. It’s in the latter cases where things get really silly, with previous orders issued to block sites like GitHub and the Internet Archive. Well, it seems the Internet Archive endured this sort of thing again recently, as a court order at the request of two Bollywood film studios caught archive.org into its ISP blocking web.
Earlier this week (and again for no apparent reason), the world renowned Internet Archive was rendered inaccessible to millions of users in India. The platform, which is considered by many to be one of the Internet’s most valued resources, hosts more than 15 petabytes of data, a figure which grows on a daily basis. Yet despite numerous requests for information, none was forthcoming from authorities. Quoted by local news outlet Medianama, Chris Butler, Office Manager at the Internet Archive, said that their attempts to contact the Indian Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) had proven fruitless.
Now, however, the mystery has been solved. The BBC says a local government agency provided a copy of a court order obtained by two Bollywood production companies who are attempting to slow down piracy of their films in India. Issued by a local judge, the sweeping order compels local ISPs to block access to 2,650 mainly file-sharing websites, including The Pirate Bay, RARBG, the revived KickassTorrents, and hundreds of other ‘usual suspects’. However, it also includes the URL for the Internet Archive, hence the problems with accessibility this week.
Let’s be clear about what this sort of thing represents: the punishment of the innocent in favor of an easy and lazy attempt to block copyright infringement. That’s not an overstatement. The continued use of court orders to block entire websites and the routine collateral damage are not exceptions, they are the rule. That they are allowed to continue to do this sort of damage even while the Indian government hand-waves away frantic requests for information from innocent site operators is as good a definition of whatever the opposite of justice is as I can think of.
Importantly, neither the court that issued the order or the two film companies requesting it, and ostensibly providing the list of sites to be blocked, are due any recompense for these actions. Perhaps most frustrating, the Internet Archive has clearly stated that not only does it have a method for copyright holders to request content takedowns, but it complied with those requests from these very same film studios.
“Is the Court aware of and did it consider the fact that the Internet Archive has a well-established and standard procedure for rights holders to submit take down requests and processes them expeditiously?” the platform said. “We find several instances of take down requests submitted for one of the plaintiffs, Red Chillies Entertainments, throughout the past year, each of which were processed and responded to promptly. After a preliminary review, we find no instance of our having been contacted by anyone at all about these films. Is there a specific claim that someone posted these films to archive.org? If so, we’d be eager to address it directly with the claimant.”
Now, archive.org was not the only innocent site blocked by this order. Weebly.com, along with at least one news site and the site for a French ISP also had their sites blocked. Still, this damage appears to be mostly met with indifferent shrugs by the Indian government and the film studios that issued this request.
So, for India, we have an answer to the question of how many innocent sites it’s willing to harm to combat copyright infringement. That answer, by our litmus test, is “too many.”
Filed Under: copyright, india, internet archive