Online Movie Piracy: Combating ‘Rogue’ and ‘Hydra-Headed Rogue’ Websites
Indian Cinema is as diverse as the land from which it evolves, with around 1600 movies screened every year in different languages. Since its inception in the late 1890s, Indian Cinema has traveled expeditiously and so has the new age technology, wherein online piracy co-exists and strangles the exclusive rights of the owners in cinematograph films. In order to facilitate streaming of pirated movies, Rogue and its hydra-headed websites are created, which attract people to watch an unlicensed version of copyrighted movies for free. The creators of such websites hide behind the veil and infringe copyright in the cinematographic films by broadcasting innumerable movies on the web to earn quick money and avoid royalties and taxes[i]. Such an act of duplicating and broadcasting movies on the web without acquiring a license from the owner is known as online movie piracy. However, Movie piracy is not restricted to online piracy and can also be committed in traditional ways such as optical discs and videocassette piracy, theatrical print theft, camcorder piracy, signal theft, broadcasting piracy, etc.[ii].
The term piracy denotes illegal and deceptive use, copying, and reproduction of someone’s work, wherein, piracy committed in the web world is known as online piracy. Illegal Duplication or reproduction of original work such as a cinematograph film on an internet platform constitutes online copyright piracy or infringement.
According to the Copyright act, 1957, copyright subsists in a cinematograph film[iii] and infringement occurs when any person evades exclusive rights of the owner by making copies of the work, storing it, communicating the work, and selling or offering for sale without the consent or license of the owner[iv]. Infringement of copyright shall be punishable with a maximum imprisonment of three years and a fine which may extend to two lakhs[v]. Furthermore, an injunction can also be obtained in the civil court against such an infringement[vi].
The addition of Sections 65A for protection against evasion of technological measures and 65B for protection of rights management information such as the name of the owner/performer or copyright information etc., in the copyright act through the 2012 amendment, further paves way for combating challenges posed by the new-age digital technology such as online piracy, which undoubtedly effects and infringes copyrights in films, music, and other works.[vii]
‘Rogue’ and ‘Hydra Headed Rogue’ websites in light of the UTV Software case:
Rogue websites are the sites that run for unethical or malicious purposes and infringe copyright in a work. While, Hydra-headed Rogue websites can be defined as mirror websites of the existing rogue website, which on being blocked, multiplies or resurfaces into different alpha-numeric sites, i.e., the operator shifts from one site to another by changing a digit or letter, by ‘whack a mole’ effect[viii].
In the landmark judgment of UTV Software Communications v. 1337X.to and others[ix], UTV together with Twentieth Century Fox filed a suit against several rogues and its mirror websites like a torrent, 1337x, movies, etc., which streamed unlicensed version of their movies and thus infringed copyright. Wherein, The Delhi High Court passed a decree of permanent injunction against the ‘John Doe defendants’ from streaming, hosting, communicating, and reproducing plaintiff’s movies and directed the Internet Service providers to block such rogue and hydra-headed rogue websites. Further, the court recommended the MEITY and DOT to frame a policy wherein viewers are issued a warning to cease viewing/downloading the infringing material and will be levied fine if not conceded with.
The court in this case analyzed and explained the definition and nature of rogue websites. According to the court, the websites which predominantly and primarily shares and allows streaming of illegal, pirated/infringing content or provide a searchable database with links to third-party ‘Flagrantly Infringing Online Locations’, are known as ‘Rogue Websites’. Such a website circumvents technological measures or court orders, masks registrant’s or user’s details facilitates easy and free access to pirated movies thus infringing copyright in the movie.
Further, the court while examining a way to combat hydra-headed websites, referred the case of Disney Enterprise v. Ml Ltd., (2018) SGHC 206 wherein Dynamic injunction was issued by the court to blocks new means of accessing the same infringing websites and held that ‘the Dynamic injunction was issued by Singapore High Court w.r.t Section 193 DDA of the Singapore Copyright Act. However, a similar procedure doesn’t exist under the Indian copyright regime, yet to fight the menace of piracy, the plaintiffs can implead the mirror/alphanumeric/redirect websites under Order I Rule 10 CPC as these websites merely provide access to the same websites which are the subject of the main injunction.’
The court through this judgment provided an intricate peep into the concept of rogue and hydra-headed websites and aid to fight the issue of online piracy.
Online Piracy with rogue and mirror/redirect websites as a medium to infringe copyright in movies has become a major threat to Indian cinema and the rightful owners. The recent judgment in the UTV case proves to be a significant and progressive step in combating and curbing online piracy. Nevertheless, the addition of provision on Dynamic injunction in the Indian Copyright regime shall prove to be beneficial in the era of the exponential increase in online piracy. Further, steps should be taken by the government with the aid of technicians and experts to build up an effective and fast-track mechanism to block such websites.