Telegram bots automating piracy


Automated bots bypass the copyright infringement methods of the application, spreading pirated content online.

Despite global courts ordering Telegram, an online messaging application, to block the distribution of copyrighted media on their platform, various programmers and developers are altering the features of the application and building add-ons like automated bots to circulate pirated content online.

A telegram bot functions just like a human chat partner. Automated backend programmes are inserted in public telegram channels to perform predefined functions independently or on user’s request.  When a user requests for a movie, the bot automatically replies with pirated files, making difficult to control them.  With the emergence of Over The Top (OTT) platforms in India after the lockdown, a post graduate student at Chandigarh University, who doesn’t want to be named, began using Telegram for downloading movies and web series that were released in OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Sony Liv for free.

“It is not affordable for me to subscribe to all these platforms. Not just me, I was a part of movie groups that consisted of thousands of members, where we used to get OTT-released movies within hours of their release. When Telegram deactivated our channels for copyright infringement, I shifted to various automated bots, where I request for a movie, and the bot will provide the download links to those movies in a few minutes,” he said.

Murali, a digital content manager at NammaFlix, an OTT platform based in Bengaluru said that piracy is the biggest challenge for them as it has become almost impossible to control pirated content online. “If we stream a movie in the platform, it will be downloaded and then uploaded by hackers into various piracy websites and applications like Telegram by hackers within an hour.”

The First Post reported that Telegram saw piracy on its platform increase about 11 times during the lockdown; while the Internet and mobile overall saw a 348 percent increase.

However, officials at the Cybercrime section of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Karnataka said that no cases of movie piracy have been registered under them now.

The European Commission on December 2020 included Telegram in its Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List, exposing the application for copyright infringements on their platform.

Commenting on the watchlist, the Chief Executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), Frances Moore said, “Social media platforms like Telegram simply must do more to put in place effective measures to prevent large scale copyright infringements on their services.”

In 2022, Neetu Singh, an Indian teacher filed a legal suit against Telegram seeking reliefs of permanent injunction, and damages alleging that her copyrighted course materials were being spread without permission through various channels on Telegram.           

The Delhi Court on August 2022 rejected Telegram’s argument that it cannot disclose the information of creators or users of their applications as it violates their user policies and later in December 2022, Telegram shared the user information with the Delhi High Court.

In the landmark decision, Justice Singh of Delhi High Court said in the order, as reported by LiveLaw, “Courts in India would be perfectly justified in directing Telegram, which runs its massive operations in India to adhere to Indian law and adhere to orders passed by Indian Courts for disclosure of relevant information relating to infringers. Infringers cannot be permitted to seek shelter under Telegram’s policies merely on the ground that its physical server is in Singapore.”

In addition to this, researchers at a cyber security firm Checkpoint found that cyber criminals are using automated bots in Telegram to generate malicious contents and malwares and using the Application Programming Interface (API) of OpenAI, the artificial intelligence (AI) company that owns the AI chatbot ChatGPT, and thereby evading the restrictions by the chatbot from using it for unethical purposes.