Indian court directs chat app Telegram to disclose details of copyright infringers

Judge says that servers being located in Singapore is not a get-out clause

A ruling handed down from the Delhi High Court this week declared that Telegram must hand over information such as IP addresses, mobile numbers, and devices used by channels on the platform involved in copyright infringement.

A copy of the ruling is available on Indian legal news blog Livelaw [PDF], with judge Prathiba Maninder Singh saying she wasn't convinced the situation of Telegram's servers in Singapore or its status as an intermediary was relevant.

The case, Neetu Singh & Anr. v. Telegram FZ LLC & Ors, was launched by petitioner Neetu Singh, who has written and sells exam-cracking manuals and videos on several subjects.

According to the filing, Singh asked Telegram to take down the impugned channels, which it did, but infringing channels kept popping up on an "almost daily basis."

The ruling stated:

Infringers cannot be permitted to seek shelter under Telegram's policies merely on the ground that its physical server is in Singapore.

On behalf of Telegram, the platform's senior counsel, Amit Sibal, said that the arrangement already in place directing Telegram to take down the infringing channels was "sufficient to protect the interest of the plaintiffs."

Per the filing, Telegram also said that as an "intermediary" under India's IT Act, it has only to remove the infringing content upon being given notice and is not liable for third party information circulated on its platform. It also claimed the act of "unauthorised disclosure" of subscriber information would be a breach of a contract, a criminal offence under Indian IT law.

According to the ruling, Sibal also directed the court towards Telegram's Privacy Policy, which states that "until and unless a person is expected to be a terror suspect, the disclosure of the subscriber information cannot be made."

Citing clause 8.3, Sibal noted: "If Telegram receives a court order that confirms you're a terror suspect, we may disclose your IP address and phone number to the relevant authorities. So far, this has never happened."

Telegram also held that the encrypted data relating to the details the court wants disclosed is located in a datacenter in Singapore, with the platform saying it wouldn't be able to decrypt the data under Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act, 2012.

The judge, however, ruled that "merely due to the fact that the persons disseminating the copyrighted works, are using the Telegram app and the said app retains its data outside India, on Telegram servers, the jurisdiction of this Court cannot be ousted" because, among others things, the infringement is "unabashedly continuing within India," the copyrighted material belongs to an India-based rightsholder, and the "likelihood" that the people behind the infringing channels, and the data uploads, are all taking place in India.

She went on to direct Telegram to disclose the details of accounts/channels that have uploaded the plaintiff's infringed material within two weeks "in a sealed cover."

We have asked Telegram for comment.

The messaging platform added a paid tier in June after passing the 700 million active monthly users mark. It benefited from a huge influx of users looking to get off the WhatsApp ship after Facebook bought it for $16 billion in 2014 and people started to be concerned about what Meta and its interlinked sub companies would do with all the information it had on them.

That said, many a WhatsApp status in Reg scribes' circles is still sporting the message: "Hi, I am now with Signal/Telegram and will soon delete my WhatsApp account" a good eight years later, doubtless due to pressure from aunties in the family WhatsApp groups. It's not easy being green. ®

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