To Share or Not to Share? The Dilemma of Sharing E-Newspapers

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There was an effect on the distribution of newspapers due to the lockdown. E-paper is an easy way for concerned citizens to stay abreast of the latest developments.

Hence there is a rise is WhatsApp forwards of e-paper PDFs. But this is in hot debate in recent times. A recent report by local Hindi newspaper “DainikBhaskar”, which says it is illegal to forward e-paper PDFs in WhatsApp groups. Action against the group administrator in case of non-compliance is necessary. This claim came as a surprise. Amid this, another report came by the “Free Press Journal“. It claimed sharing in PDF or any other form of paper is not an illegal act. This created confusion among the readers. This led to debates on social media. The central organization of the Indian Press, Indian Newspaper Society (INS), gave a clear explanation. They said that there is no problem to circulate the PDF Files which are free. But there can be concern over copying a PDF from a paid e-paper.

Copyright Act and Information Technology Act

Newspapers have its own copyright over the content as it is their own expression. Here, it is the interplay of the interplay of Copyright Act 1957 and Information Technology Act 2000 that causes the confusion. The liability of the Whatsapp group administrator is often in highlight. But there can be no dispute over such an aspect. It has already been further settled bythe court in Ashish Bhalla vs. Suresh Chawdhary.

The Delhi HC ruled that the WhatsApp group administrator is not responsible for the content posted on the group by others. The Delhi High Court ruled that the WhatsApp group administrator is not responsible for the content posted on the group by others. It was a welcome move by HC. This is equal to making a manufacturer of the newsprint, on which defamatory statement is published, liable for defamation. Even if he or she has no hand in making that defamatory statement thus stating that no one can be then held liable
for something to which he or she has no control. In contrast to what is said by DainikBhaskar making group contender liable for this will not be a good idea.

Observations from the Act

Reading Copyright Act section 52(1) (a) (ii) & (iii) provides us with the exemption from infringing copyright. It includes a fair deal of work for the purpose ofcriticism and review. Also for reporting current events or current affairs. But the same section does provide instances advocating the newspaper authority. For example the Section 52(1)(c).

It says that certain instances will be then absolved from copyright infringement. Such as transient and incidental storage or work for providing electronic links, access or integration, where such links, access or integration has not been further prohibited by the right holder. Hence, if the e-papers come up with a disclaimer, agreeing to which it will be then downloaded; Section 52(1) (c) ceases to apply as an express prohibition.

Section 79 of the IT act talks about the exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases, for any third party information data or communication. The social media platform in present case being the intermediary. Section 43, speaks the penalty for damages which occur by accessing or even downloading data from computer. And section 66B, it also talks about the punishment for dishonestly receiving computer resources.

But in both the sections we see the usage of words “without permission” and “dishonestly”. We see that the liability of IT act will apply to any of the member of group even if the person downloads either freely or by accepting the terms. Because both instances cannot be terms as “Dishonest practice”. But the newspaper authorities get ample scope to defend their arguments by section 81 of the Act. It states this act will not restrict any person from exercising any right under the copyright act or patents act.

Conclusion

Newspaper such as The Statesman or The Hindu’s e-paper comes up with its terms of not sharing this paper with anyone. They also speak that it will not apply for purpose of initiating discussion and expressing opinion. This gives scope to scope of Section 52(1) (a) (iii) of the copyright act. When the user downloads the e-paper of any newspaper which already has a term of use, the implied license ceases to apply. The user cannot circulate it. When it becomes freely downloadable copy, without any term of use, the implied license will act to the extent of even circulating it. However, there can be a debate on the extent of implied license. Hence in the present situation it is dependent on terms of use attached to the newspaper.


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