Update (May 10th 2010): Last week, we contacted Sequoia Capital India for a confirmation that Guruji executives have been released, and for comments from either Sequoia Capital India, Guruji or their legal representatives on their side of the story. The response: “No Comments”.

Update (May 2nd 2010): We would urge you to please debate the merits of the case, and not make personal or malicious comments.

Update (May 1st 2010): I just visited Guruji.com again, while debating the case with someone, and it appears that the Virgin Mobile ads have been removed from Guruji’s search pages.

In the offline discussions that have followed this development, point about Guruji being the search engine keeps coming up for debate: do you need a tie-up or an agreement to index? This case probably has implications for meta search engines as well.

Anurag Dod, CEO of Guruji.com, along-with other executives, were arrested in Bangalore yesterday, on charges of making available the copies of the copyrighted musical works owned by T-Series (Super Cassettes Industries Ltd). The FIR (First Information Report) registered in Bangalore states that this is “for infringement and displaying in Guruji.com web site film songs of 1) Om Shanthi Om 2) All the best 3) Bhool Bhulaiya 4) Apka Suroor 5) Aashiq Banaya Apne which belong to Super Cassettes Industries Ltd Copy Right Owner Ship”.

But was an arrest necessary? Rahul Ajatshatru, Legal Counsel for T-Series told MediaNama: “This is a criminal action. The police on examining the complaint filed by T-Series and examining the website, understood the modus-operandi of Guruji, and then lodged an FIR. During investigation, the offices were raided, equipment were seized, and arrests were made. A criminal prosecution under the Copyright act, is independent of the civil actions of injunctions and damages, and a copyright owner is at liberty to choose either or both these remedies, under the law. Police takes all necessary steps it deems fit to secure evidence, and prevent tampering of evidence.”

Guruji.com is a Sequoia Capital funded search engine that claims to be number one in “Music Search”, allowing users to locate and play music from sites like songs.pk, musicplug.in, pz10.com, bollymobile.in, among others. It has emulated Baidu.com’s music search model in China.

In 2004, Avnish Bajaj, then the CEO of online marketplace Baazee.com (ebay.in), was arrested (read about it here) because a student sold copies of a pornographic mobile clip via the platform. That arrest brought to light the inadequacies of India’s IT Act, which has subsequently been amended to incorporate a safe harbor (protection against prosecution) for intermediaries like search engines, ISPs and auction sites, who are often not in the know of their users committing crime using the services that they provide.

T-Series argued in court last week that the IT Act 2008 (Amended) does not provide certain intermediaries and platforms like MySpace with safe harbor against Copyright violation. The company makes money by licensing its content via Hungama Digital Media, to online publishers like Web18 (for In.com), Rediff (for SongBuzz), and has actively and aggressively pursued legal options against violation of its copyright, against YouTube, MySpace and Naspers owned Ibibo.com, to name a few.

Is Guruji Guilty Of Copyright Violation?

Was Guruji in the know of, and abetting copyright violation? We don’t know. Is exploiting a loophole against the law? We don’t think so.

All across Guruji’s website, the emphasis is on music search. It doesn’t host or license the content, and repeatedly informs its users that it holds no responsibility for the content it links to.

Some disclaimers:

1. Song listing page: Guruji.com indexes third party websites and does not have control over, nor any liability for the content of such third party websites. If you believe that any of the search results above, link to content that infringes your copyright, please contact us.

2. Song pop-up: (Guruji.com holds no responsibility for content on this site)

What is Guruji: a search engine, a publisher, or somewhere in the middle?

A search engine, as an intermediary, is typified by the ease with which it allows consumers to access content, by matching their queries with the content that the webpage makes available. In return, the search engine makes money by serving advertising on pages where search results are listed.

Can one define whether a property is a search engine or not , based on how many pages or websites it indexes?. For its music search, by the looks of it, Guruji indexes very few websites, all of which serve music. The music search does not reveal articles or reviews from news publications or blogs. Only music content, showcased according to language, type of file (mp3, ringtone), singer, movie and album, even allowing users to even dedicate songs, furthering discovery of content to other users. The website showcases content by new releases and top singers as well.

When this goes to court, Guruji.com has to prove that it is only pointing consumers towards content. The judgement will set a precedent for the interpretation of both the IT Act (Amended 2010), and eventually, the Copyright Bill which was introduced in Parliament a couple of weeks ago. Watch this space.

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