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The High Court in Delhi has ordered Telegram to disclose personal user groups accused of copyright infringement. The messenger refuses to do so, which could lead to a blocking in the country. In India, Telegram's audience numbers around half a billion people.
Ms Neetu Singh, author of various books, courses and lectures, and KD Campus, an Indian provider of courses and lectures, have sued the messenger, demanding that it disclose the identity of users who violate copyright by uploading company videos to Telegram for free.
Telegram does not tolerate copyright infringement and usually takes swift action in response. These measures include timely removal of channels along with pirated content. However, KD Campus said that these measures are not enough to stop piracy. After blocking the channels, the same pirates created new ones again and again. Therefore, the company decided to take a different route and try to find the pirates through the courts so that it could sue them.
However, Telegram refused to provide users' personal data, citing privacy and freedom of speech considerations, and noted that it was only entitled to disclose data at the request of the court to terrorism suspects.
The Delhi High Court disagreed with Telegram's stance, and handed down the following verdict of an order compelling Telegram to identify several copyright infringing users. This includes handing over phone numbers, IP addresses and email addresses.
Telegram's representatives used various arguments not in favour of the ruling. One was that the data is stored in Singapore, which prohibits the decryption of personal information under local privacy laws.
This argument was rejected and Telegram was reminded that since the messenger is fully operational in the country, it must comply with Indian law and comply with Indian court rulings regarding information on infringers.
Infringers cannot be permitted to seek shelter under Telegram’s policies merely on the ground that its physical server is in Singapore.
The Court said the infringement is linked to Indian works, an Indian company and is likely to be linked to Indian users. Even if the data is stored elsewhere, it could be accessed from India on that basis.
Also, the High Court said that disclosure of personal information would not be a violation of Singapore's privacy law because there is an exception in the law if the personal data is necessary for an investigation or legal proceeding.
In addition, Telegram invoked the Indian constitution, which gives people the right to privacy as well as freedom of speech and expression. However, this defence also proved unsuccessful.
The Court concluded:
The right to freedom of speech or the right to life including the right to privacy cannot be used by any person or entity, let alone an infringer, in order to escape the consequences of illegal actions.
Telegram has begun to argue that it is not obliged to disclose its users' data, as the service is only acting as an intermediary in this case.
To this, the Court responded:
Merely disabling or taking down channels upon information being given to Telegram is an insufficient remedy.
The Court called this group of pirates "clearly hydra-headed,” as infringers easily and quickly launch new channels after being blocked. Therefore, different tactics are required to enforce copyright. The final decision was a demand for Telegram to disclose the data of the infringers.
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