Pirates of All and Sundry – Piracy and its Legal Implications


A person’s possession, be it his work or belongings, is his ultimate creation, and the last thing he wants to happen to it is for it to be stolen and misappropriated by someone else. With the advancement of technology, a new kind of robbery has now started taking place in the legal world. Online piracy is truly a threat to the cyber world. Online copyright infringement is done not just by people with ill-intention, but also by people who are not even aware they are committing a crime. Copyright is a kind of intellectual property right that gives the original creator of the material (movies, songs) the right to get paid. These creators are also given control of the distribution of their products.

What is Piracy?

Piracy basically occurs when a person copies, distributes, or even sells a product, without the express permission of the creator of that product. Its online distribution and sales can lead to a huge loss of revenue to the owner. This is a hard thing for the original creators to go through. The problem is even more enhanced because several people are either unwilling or unable to pay the right sum of money for it. Piracy is a form of copyright infringement done on an online platform, wherein games, movies, software, etc., are sold and distributed without the knowledge or permission of the original creator.

Types of Piracy

Piracy, when elaborated in terms of software, can be classified into 5 types, namely –

  • Counterfeiting
    It is an illegal acquisition, duplication, and distribution of any copyrighted material, which directly replicates the copyrighted product. The nature of the distribution of the said product may or may not be a sale. The most common way of distributing such pirated works is through CDs.
  • Internet Piracy
    It is an act of downloading a file from the internet, or by procuring online software through CDs. Some methods of conducting internet piracy are websites offering free downloads of software, auctions selling illegally obtained software or P2P servers which transfer programs.
  • End-User Piracy
    This form involves the user illegally reproducing software which he is not authorized to do. For example, a user using one license to the software and installing it on multiple systems or upgrading an already pirated software.
  • Client-Server Overuse
    In a computer network, when the number of clients exceeds the number prescribed in the server license, it is known as overuse piracy.
  • Hard-Disk Loading
    This occurs when a business sells new computers with illegal copies of software loaded in its hard disks to make the purchase of the machines more attractive.

Law of Copyright in India

Digital Copyright

To handle copyright and copyright infringement-related disputes, the Indian Constitution has introduced the Copyright Act, 1957. This acts as the main statute for all copyright-related laws in India.  Under Section 13 of the Act, copyright protection is conferred on literary works, dramatic works, musical works, artistic works, cinematograph films, and sound recordings.

The Copyright Act, 1957 handles the protection of copyrighted material through the classification of the same into two categories of rights. Those rights are as under –

  • Economic Rights
    The scope of this Act falls under originally conceptualized works including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, cinematograph films, and sound recordings. The owners of these intellectual properties and works are given exclusive rights which can be exercised when it comes to the reproduction and distribution of these works, and to have a share in the profit of any sales of the product made by a licensed third party.
  • Moral Rights
    Section 57 of the Act divides moral rights into two basic rights, the right of paternity and the right of integrity. The right of paternity enables the original creator of the intellectual property to claim ownership of it and prevent others from claiming the same. Whereas the right of integrity enables the creator to restrict all ‘distortion, mutilation or other alterations of his work, or any other action in relation to said work’ which may damage his reputation.

Punishment for Piracy


Illegal Downloads of Movies

The Union of India recently issued an amendment for the Cinematograph Act, 1952, to clearly define the punishments to be given to the pirates who, without any authorization of the copyright owner, use any device to record or transmit a copy of a film. It is not necessary for the film to be fully recorded, or even distributed through the internet. If the offender attempts to record the movie while inside the theater, he is guilty under the act.

The punishment for this is normally imprisonment, a fine, or both. This punishment can also extend to those who download pirated movies.

Charges of Piracy

Since the crime of piracy is not only limited to the movie industry, the punishment specified above is not the only one dealing with pirates. It varies according to the industry in which they commit the act of piracy. The most notable forms of punishment are covered in the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957, and the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. The punishments specified are as follows –

  • Copyright Act
    If a person uses a pirated computer program or a program that has been manufactured or acquired through copyright infringement, on any computer device, he/she shall be liable for imprisonment of 7 days to 3 years, and a fine of Rs. 50 thousand to Rs. 3 lakhs (Section 63B of Copyright Act, 1957).
  • IT Act
    If a person gains access to a computer, a network of computers, or computer systems, and then proceeds to view, copy, or extract the data present on the computer, either through digital means or through a removable storage medium (pen drive or hard disk), without prior authorization from the original owner of the computer, he is liable to pay damages as compensation which can go up to a sum of Rs. 1 Crore. Any person who downloads stolen data will also be liable for the same amount.

Prevention of Piracy

While the legal consequences associated serve to act as an effective prevention against piracy, it is not enough to act as a solid preventive measure, considering actual prosecutions against digital pirates are few and far in between. This is because most intellectual property owners tend to just get a cease-and-desist (termination) order against sites that host pirated content, which are just orders to take down the download links for the content.

Thus, there are, though loosely defined, some effective ways to prevent piracy, i.e., deter users themselves from seeking out and downloading pirated content. These are as follows –

  • Price Regulation
     By offering digital goods and services at a lower, realistic price, producers can hope to at least lessen the number of users pirating their content by a wide margin. It will not stop piracy completely but reducing the incentive for people to make use of pirated content will certainly prevent piracy to a large extent.
  • Barriers to Entry
    This mode of prevention rests more within the jurisdiction of the government. Many governments instruct and encourage ISPs to restrict entry into sites with host pirated content, mostly by blocking the sites on their servers. Directly barring users from accessing these sites helps in reducing the pirate users by a large amount, as most do not have the technical know-how i.e., how to use VPNs which is required to circumvent the sites being blocked.
  • User Confrontation
    A lot of television and streaming services often use a combination of both the above-listed methods having some real-time interactions with the users. Pirate users often get real-time messages notifying them that the owner is aware of them using pirated content.
  • Cooperation between industries
    The above-listed methods prevent piracy. While working great on their own, they often fail and disappear when there is one bad link in the chain. That one bad link can be an owner who is lenient with his content being pirated or does not know about the extent of piracy. Thus, as a result, all the above methods, if executed systematically and efficiently by all relevant producers at once, can be one of the biggest deterrents to pirates.


There are many issues with online copyright infringement laws in India. The challenge is even more difficult to deal with because of the increasing growth rate of new technologies. The judiciary is taking its time to deal with such cases and is forming guidelines about various scenarios in the digital world that can enhance issues such as online piracy. India is not new to online piracy cases.

For example, the most recent case of the movie ‘Udta Punjab’. This movie was leaked online before its release date. The offender was a 25-year-old from Mumbai. He was charged under the Information Technology Act. Another major case was seen in Kerala in 2012. In this case, the anti-piracy cell of Kerala ended up tracing the IP addresses of around a thousand people who were involved in illegal uploading and downloading of the movie ‘bachelor party.’

However, the government is taking suitable measures to keep this growing threat under control. Piracy and online copyright infringement can be minimized with awareness, policies, and few precautions. It is also vital to be in sync with the various piracy laws of different countries. The existing Indian legal framework when it comes to online piracy is undoubtedly lacking. However, things seem to be changing for the better now. Enough awareness, along with implementing a few new policies could help the growing menace of online copyright infringement.

Editor’s Note
The Author has in the present article explained the concept of privacy. There are various types of pirate activities that have been discussed in accordance with a couple of legislations like the Copyright Act, 1957, and the IT Act 2000.  The author further detailed the punishments that privacy attracts as well as the prevention of piracy. Challenges of combating piracy are also highlighted in the article.