Legal provisions to combat illegal movie downloads
This article contains a simple explanation on the law related to downloading movies online
Is it legal to download movies from websites that host online entertainment content?
It depends. Some content on websites is freely licensed, meaning that you have the owner’s permission to download and share these works freely.
However, the majority of the content on such websites are protected by copyright, and unauthorised downloading of such content is considered copyright infringement.
As a rule of thumb, most movies by large production houses are usually protected by copyright, and it is illegal to download them off websites. Yes, if you are watching Baahubali 2 in the week of its release, you can be pretty sure that you are doing it illegally!
Will I go to jail or be fined for downloading a movie illegally?
Yes, if it is shown in a court that you knowingly infringe or help someone else infringe the copyright in the movie by downloading it. The court will assume that you knew of the infringement because in most cases the movie contains a watermark or notice which clearly indicates that it is a copyrighted work.
Under the law (Copyright Act 1957 section 63), the punishment if you are being convicted for the first offence is jail time between six months and three years, with a fine between Rupees 50,000 and Rupees 200,000. However, it is worth mentioning that there aren’t many reported cases of actual prosecution for downloading movies online. Typically, the person who owns the copyright in the movie would only try to block the URL (through takedown notices or court orders).
Under the law (Copyright Act 1957 section 63A), the punishment for doing this again after you’ve already been punished once is more severe. If you are caught doing this more than once, the jail time could ranges between one and three years along with a fine between Rupees 100,000 and Rupees 200,000.
However, you may receive a shorter jail term or fine if the court is convinced that your infringement was not commercial in nature (for personal use, rather than to sell or rent out).
What copyright laws apply to Indian residents?
The Copyright Act, 1957 is applicable throughout India, and also protects movies made abroad. Foreign laws such as America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998 do not bind people living in India, and no criminal action can be taken against you in India under these laws if you are downloading copyrighted movies in India.
What are my rights if I am arrested? Can I get bail?
There is very little clarity on whether police officers can act of their own accord to take cognizance of copyright infringement (and therefore make arrests without warrants), and on whether detainees accused of copyright infringement have a right to get bail.
The law on criminal procedure considers crimes in which the police can begin investigation or make arrests without permission from the court as ‘cognizable’ crimes. Similarly, crimes for which you have a right to bail (or release upon signing a bond) are known as ‘bailable’ crimes.
In different states, the position of law is different because of different court orders. For example, in:
- Assam, copyright infringement is non-bailable.
- Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, copyright infringement is bailable and non-cognizable.
- Kerala, copyright infringement is cognizable and non-bailable.
- Delhi, copyright infringement is cognizable and non-bailable.
Are there stricter laws in some states?
Yes. In Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the state governments have included video piracy as an offence under their respective organised crime laws, popularly known as the Goonda Acts. These laws were originally drafted to combat organised crime, and grant more power to the police, especially by keeping people in custody without actually arresting them.