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Circulation of E-newspapers: Regulations and Restrictions

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has grossly affected almost every industry in a negative fashion and newspaper distribution is no exception. This led to the alternative of e-newspapers which are usually in a PDF format so as to be conveniently readable on any mobile device. However, with this solution came a unique predicament relating to copyright law in India when media conglomerate Dainik Bhaskar published a report declaring that sharing e-newspapers on social media platforms is illegal and actionable. Their claims were backed by an advisory issued by the Indian Newspaper Society to its members. This was immediately challenged by a fact check conducted by India Today which concluded that sharing virtual newspapers is legal as long as the same is freely available.

Grounds of Legality

Currently, there are at least two variants to approaching the legality behind the sharing of e-newspapers on the basis of their respective subscription models or lack thereof and the other one relating to a media company’s terms and conditions or lack thereof. The first approach was used in India Today and advocates that payment is all that is necessary to stop a person from sharing the information but if the same is freely provided then it can be shared without any consequences.

The second approach is considerably more focused on determining the legal basis of circulation as it deals with the terms and conditions set by the e-newspaper company. On these grounds, if the terms of usage as provided by the media house disallow the circulation of their virtual newspapers then it would be unlawful irrespective of the fact that the user has paid for the service.

However, if no such terms are expressed then the issue takes a rather confusing turn as there is more than one way of interpreting its legal basis. Firstly, one could apply the doctrine of implied license, wherein it is laid down that absence of any legal provisions makes for a virtual license to the users who could then convert the service as per their convenience within certain bounds. This ostensibly includes the circulation of virtual newspapers on social media platforms.

Lastly, in the context of the Copyright Act, 1957 of India, Section 52(1)(a)(ii) and (iii) of the same would come into play as it deals with ‘fair use’ of any literary or artistic material and thus prevents extreme enforcement of copyright laws. According to this provision, sharing, circulating, or reporting the content of an e-newspaper would be lawful but limited as it must not be carried out in contravention of the law. Therefore, the practice of sharing virtual newspapers on social media platforms would not be subject to scrutiny unless it overtly leads to copyright infringement

Conclusion

To sum up, while there are many ways to understand if the circulation of e-newspapers is unlawful or not, the most coherent way of tackling such copyright infringement is to go through the terms and conditions of its publisher and act accordingly. Since this approach would provide the user with absolute clarity, it easily overcomes any limitations of its alternative methods. As the saying goes “It’s better to be safe than sorry” and surely, spending a couple of extra minutes to avoid a lawsuit definitely fits the phrase.

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