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Vimeo Ban: More Web Censorship

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 24, 2012 09:19 AM
When Indian users logged on to Vimeo and some other video-sharing websites Thursday morning, they were greeted by a rather unusual message: "Access to this site has been blocked as per Court Orders."

This article by Preetika Rana published in the Wall Street Journal on May 18, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted in it.

When Indian users logged on to  Vimeo and some other video-sharing websites Thursday morning, they were greeted by a rather unusual message: "Access to this site has been blocked as per Court Orders."

The websites were blocked by private telecom operators following a ruling by Chennai’s High Court in March.

The story began when Chennai-based Copyrights Labs, a firm specializing in copyright infringement, petitioned the High Court to take pre-emptive action against people who might illegally upload two Tamil-language films: "3" and "Dammu."

The court ruled that Internet service providers, or ISPs, could block video-sharing sites where those films were illegally available.

The court named 15 prominent ISPs who were covered by the order.

But the court did not name any particular video-sharing websites to be taken down. And it remains unclear if any of those affected this week even carried the two films in question.

Two major Indian ISPs, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, blocked content sharing websites including U.S.-based Vimeo and France-based Dailymotion and Pastebin.

They cited the court order as a reason but without proof the sites were carrying the movies. Other ISPs named in the court order did not attempt to block any websites.

The two telecom giants offered little further clarity on why these websites were blocked. “Access to certain sites has been blocked by Airtel pursuant to and in compliance with Court orders,” Bharti Airtel said in a statement.

Reliance Communication’s statement said: "Under Section 79 of the IT Act, an ISP has to adhere to any copyright infringement notice and court orders."

Responding to reports of the ban, Harish Ram, chief executive of Copyrights Labs said Thursday: "We have been fighting for this for long and it seems the ISPs are finally responding."

By Friday, the ISPs had restored services for Vimeo, Dailymotion and Pastebin, although some users still reported access problems.

It is still unclear why the March order came into effect only now or why Reliance and Airtel decied to unblock the websites. The telecom firms did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Experts attacked ISPs for clamping down on free speech on the web.

"Why and how did telecom giants target select websites," said Pranesh Prakash, a program manager at Bangalore based-Centre for Internet and Society, a non-profit group advocating free speech on the web. He pointed out that the High Court did not spell out the names of websites that should be blocked.

"Shutting websites merely on the basis of suspicion amounts to private crackdown on free speech of the web," he said. "Why didn’t the telecom ministry repeal or object to the move, knowing that the court didn’t spell out the websites to be blocked?"

Bhupendra Kainthola, a spokesman for the telecom ministry, noted that the "government or the telecom ministry had nothing to do with the high court ruling.” When asked why the ministry did not intervene, Mr. Kainthola responded: “What can we do? If an order has been passed, we have to follow it… that is the law of the land."

The move comes only a few months after the central government issued an official sanction to prosecute internet giants Facebook Inc. and Google Inc., alleging that they host "blasphemous" content on their websites. A criminal case against the two companies is ongoing.

ASPI-CIS Partnership


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