NEW DELHI: On Friday morning, scores of users connected to the internet through broadband services provided by Reliance Communications found they could not access major file-hosting websites.

Instead of the website page, they were greeted with a message telling them "this site has been blocked", complete with a line saying the message has been "copyrighted" by Reliance Entertainment.

To say that the message is strange is an understatement as cyber law experts TOI spoke to said that the only authority allowed to block websites in India is Department of Information Technology.

"Since Friday morning I can't access any file-hosting websites. Not all web users are pirates. We share legitimate files through websites like Megaupload and Filesonic. Like photographs we have clicked. Blocking of websites is ridiculous," said Gaurav Shukla, editor of and someone who has been using Reliance broadband for the last six months. The blocking was reported from across India. The same websites were accessible on the networks of other ISPs.

This is the second time this year that file-hosting websites have been blocked on the Reliance network. Last time it happened was when Singham, a movie produced by Reliance Entertainment, was released. This time the trigger is reportedly the release of Don 2. Sources said Reliance Entertainment has obtained a "John Doe" order from a Delhi court against the piracy of Don 2 several days before its release. John Doe order, a term that originated in the UK, describes a court injunction that is issued against unknown offenders. It is often used in copyright and IP-related cases.

To get a clarification on the blocking of file-hosting websites, TOI called up Reliance Entertainment officials as well as sent emails to Reliance Communications around 24 hours before writing this report, but no response was received.

While it is believed that members of websites like Megaupload and Filesonic share copyrighted material, it is debatable if the websites can be held responsible for their behaviour. Pranesh Prakash, a senior official with Centre for Internet and Society and an expert of cyber law, said that even if the websites could be considered responsible, which would be wrong on many counts, it was illegal for Reliance Communications to block these websites.

"Yes, there is a John Doe order. But Reliance Communications seems to have misinterpreted it. If the judge, who gave the order, comes to know about how it has been used, I am sure he will disagree. So far, there is no evidence that members at the blocked file-hosting websites had indulged in piracy of Don 2. It's purely speculative. It is like shutting down a public library just because some one may go there and leave a book about bomb making," he said.

Prakash added that even if there was piracy of Don 2 on the said websites, proper procedures should have been followed to block them. "Blocking websites at ISP level is arbitrary and illegal. According to the IT rules in India, only DIT is empowered to issue orders on blocking of a website. Not even Department of Telecom, which looks after the affairs of ISPs, can order blocking of websites without involving DIT," he said.

Internet users on Twitter and various other forums said that at a time when concerns were being raised on the issue of web freedom in India, the ease with which Reliance Communications had been able to block websites was alarming. Prakash said that in this case, the blocking came to light. In many cases, ISPs in India block websites or content on their own and don't even bother to inform users. According to sources, websites like TypePad and Mobango were briefly blocked by some ISPs earlier on their own even though DIT or DoT were not party to the decision.


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