Category Archives: fair use

Online Copyright Infringement and Its liability Upon Intermediary

  1. Copyright is a bundle of rights which is meant to encourage creativity. In ancient days creative persons worked for fame and recognition rather than to earn a living, thus, the question of copyright never arose. In the last four decades modern and advanced means of communication like broadcasting, litho-photography. Television, websites contents etc have made the Copyright Act an important act to deal with possible problems of ownership and infringement on such rights
  2. Copyright rights prohibit others from using the copyrighted works. The traditional concept of the copyright has undergone a drastic change due to advent of the new technologies; its scope has extended manifolds. Now, the modern law of copyright encompasses musical works, cinematograph works, computer programs, performer’s rights, broadcasting rights.
  1. The Copyright Act today has also to deal with business models which are growing over the internet wherein the users are participating actively and thereon the companies are earning solely on the basis of the internet services by facilitating users to share their contents which are attractive (which includes pictures, motion pictures, films, songs, graphics, trailors, private communications amongst the eminent personalities, scam disclosures etc) so as to make it common to all and enabling them to view it easily by sitting at home.
  1. Thus it has becomes necessary that the Copyright Act also deals with problems of online copyright infringement and other related aspects. Though no specific reference has been made with this aspect, but the amended provisions of the Copyright Act tries to deal with some practical problems and including the inclusion of fair use policy and other aspect of transient and incidental storage of work or performance or for providing links for such links.
  1. The relevant provision for Copyright Infringement is reproduced herein below:

Section 51. When copyright infringed. -Copyright in a work shall be deemed to be infringed-

(a)    when any person, without a licence granted by the owner of the copyright or the Registrar of Copyrights under this Act or in contravention of the conditions of a licence so granted or of any condition imposed by a competent authority under this Act-

(i)     does anything, the exclusive right to do which is by this Act conferred upon the owner of the copyright, or

(ii)     permits for profit any place to be used for the communication of the work to the public where such communication constitutes an infringement of the copyright in the work, unless he was not aware and had no reasonable ground for believing that such communication to the public would be an infringement of copyright; or

(b)     When any person –

  • makes for sale on hire, or sells or lets for hire, or by way of trade displays or offers for sale or hire, or
  • Distributes either for the purposes of trade or to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright, or
  • By way of trade exhibits in public, or
  • Imports [***] into India,

any infringing copies of the work:

[Provided that nothing in Sub-clause (iv) shall apply to the import of one copy of anywork, for the private and domestic use of the importer.]

Explanation – For the purposes of this section, the reproduction of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work in the form of a cinematograph film shall be deemed to be an “infringing copy.

  1. From the bare reading of the Section 51, it becomes apparent that the infringement is, doing of any act by a person who is not authorized by the owner, which the owner is conferred to do under the provisions of the Act or permitting any place for profit for infringement of the copyright is also an infringement under the Act. The said two provisions are disjunctive in as much as that there shall be an infringement even if the acts are done which are of the owner or in the alternative the acts of permitting any place for profit.
  1. In view of the same and also the fact that the provision provides for permitting “any place which itself is loosely worded and is unfettered by any qualification, the said words “any place” have to be construed widely so as to include the place at the webs page or internet in order to give effect to the provision to be operative in cases of newer kind of the infringements being caused at the web space.
  1. Thus the Copyright Infringement includes the online infringement and any one can sue for the infringement of copyright based on the web pages or web contents including websites & mobile Application.
  1. However there is no reference to such business models i.e. network service providers, internet services providers, web-hosting service providers under the Copyright Act. The business model was such that made them susceptible to various liabilities. There was no explicit provision covering their right. They are commonly known as Intermediaries as is specifically defined under The Information and Technology Act, 2000.
  1. Intermediary has been defined under Section 2(w) of the IT Act,2000 “Intermediary” with respect to any particular electronic records, means any person who on behalf of another person, receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any services with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet services providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cybercafés”.

Status of Intermediary and protection provided under IT Act, 2000

  1. The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 brought a needed relief to the Intermediaries as Chapter XII of the act, provided for the exemption from liability to the Intermediaries. In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (zg) of subsection (2) of section 87 read with sub-section (2) of section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000), the Central Government vide gazette Notification dated 11th April,2011  published the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011.
  1. Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000: Exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases.—

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force but subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) and (3), an intermediary shall not be liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him.

(2) The provisions of sub-section (1) shall apply if—

(a) the function of the intermediary is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted; or

(b) the intermediary does not—

(i) initiate the transmission,

(ii) select the receiver of the transmission, and

(iii) select or modify the information contained in the transmission;

(c) the intermediary observes due diligence while discharging his duties under this Act

and also observes such other guidelines as the Central Government may prescribe in this behalf.

(3) The provisions of sub-section (1) shall not apply if—

(a) the intermediary has conspired or abetted or aided or induced, whether by threats or

promise or otherwise in the commission of the unlawful act;

(b) upon receiving actual knowledge, or on being notified by the appropriate

Government or its agency that any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act, the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material on that resource without vitiating the evidence in any manner.

Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, the expression “third party information” means any information dealt with by an intermediary in his capacity as an intermediary.

  1. The Act clearly provided that to seek protection under section 79 it was mandatory for the intermediaries to observe due diligence as provided by the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011. Thus it is mandatory for the Intermediaries to follow such due diligence to seek protection/ exemption under the IT ACT, 2000.The exemption provided under Section 79 read with the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011 clearly is similar to the provision of DMCA’s (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) safe harbours for online service provider.
  1. However the Amendment and the understanding of the said Section received a set back by the Judgement of Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the matter of Super Cassetes Industries Ltd Vs My Space Inc[1], which had led to the confusion over the protection given to the Intermediaries under the IT ACT, 2000. That the Hon’ble Court while giving a Prima Facie view on the Injunction had come to the conclusion that that the provisions of Section 79 of The Information Technology Act, 2000 will have no bearing on the liability of infringement of Copyright because of the proviso provided under Section 81 of the Act. The protection given to the Intermediaries with respect to copyright and patent infringement cases has been taken away by considering the provisions of Section 79 of the Act read with Section 81 of the Act.
  1. Thus intermediary can be sued for online infringement of copyright content despite given an exemption under Section 79 of The Information Technology Act, 2000. The interpretation of Section 79 read with Section 81 of the Act has lead to take away the exemption provided under the Act.
  1. However the proviso provided under Section 52 (c) is again an Act to bring the Indian Copyright Act in accordance with the International Practise. A proviso has been added to this clause to provide a similar provision as safe harbour as per international norms to internet service providers, as they are merely carriers of information provided by others. This is generally referred to as ‘notice and take down procedure’. If the person responsible for the storage of the copy has received a written complaint from the owner of copyright in the work, that the transient or incidental storage is an infringement, such persons responsible for the storage shall refrain from facilitating such access for a period of twenty-one days or till he receives an order from the competent court refraining from facilitating access. In case no such order is received before the expiry of such period of twenty-one days, he may continue to provide the facility of such access.

Section 52 (c) of the Copyright Act defines- Certain acts not to be infringement of copyright-

(c)     transient or incidental  storage of a work or performance for the purpose of providing electronic links, access or integration, where such links, access or integration has not been expressly prohibited by the right holder, unless the person responsible is aware or has reasonable grounds for believing that such storage is of an infringing copy:

Provided that if the person responsible for the storage of the copy has received a written complaint from the owner of copyright in the  work, complaining that such transient or incidental storage is an infringement, such person responsible for the storage shall refrain from facilitating such access for a period of twenty-one days or till he receives an order from the competent court refraining from facilitating access and in case no such order is received before the expiry of such period of twenty-one days, he may continue to provide the facility of such access.

  1. It is also important to note that when section 52 (c) is read and construed in accordance to Section 79 of The Information Technology Act, 2000, it is felt that the Amended, Copyright Amendment Act, 2012 has provided some protection specifically by inserting Section 52 (c) of the Act, however there are some restriction to the same and has also incorporated the principle and procedure provided therein. Thus even to seek such exemption as provided under the Act, it is mandatory to follow such principle.

[1] 2011(48)PTC49(Del)

About the Author: Mr. Amarjeet Kumar, Senior Associate (Litigation), Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys and can be reached at:

Criminalizing online sharing of Academic Article by a Columbian Student


Diego Gomez is a student perusing post graduation in Conservation and Wildlife Management in Costa Rica. Like students of developing countries, he also used to face lack of availability of literature in the libraries and other sources of reading. To face this scarcity of academic databases, Diego, used the power of internet. It enabled him to read relevant research, share documents, and communicate with others in his field. In recent times, though large amount of database is available on internet yet to find something credible and scholarly, one has to pay a premium price and this served as a barrier for Gomez. So he, along with his fellow students started sharing articles which they find relevant amongst themselves on internet. On being asked about giving due acknowledgement to author, this is what Gomez has to say:

“The important thing is to make a correct citation, attributing researchers’ work by indicating their name and year of publication and, of course, not claiming the work of another researcher, but to recognize it and value it. Therefore, what we usually do is to reference the findings and make them available to those who need them.”

One such paper research paper was shared by Gomez on Scribd. The paper was a taxonomy document that could be used by conservationists like him to identify animals and study ways of preserving them and their ecosystems. It is noticeable that Columbia is world’s second most biodiverse country and access to such prominent piece of work could have served the scientific fraternity in conservation of flora and fauna of the nation.  Yet two years later, Gomez received a legal notice from the author of the impugned article intimating him about initiating criminal investigation against him in this regard. The notice was silent as to the reason and criminal charges for which Gomes was accused. Later on, he discovered that the author of the impugned article filed a lawsuit over the “violation of [his] economic and related rights.” This is what Gomes has to say on it:

“Three years ago, through a Facebook group in which I participated along with many others interested in the amphibian and reptile studies, I came across a master’s thesis that was crucial to identify some amphibians I found… At that time, however, I thought it was something could be of interested [sic] for other groups, so I shared it on the web. 

Although I was not the only one (the document was in several sites already), for sharing knowledge—recognising the authorship—now the author advances a criminal case against me.”

Another relevant fact to the case was, later on, Scribd made the impugned article accessible for an amount of $5 which was initially freely accessible. Thus, it can be inferred that money was never a motive of Diego behind uploading impugned article.

Diego now faces up to 8 years in jail and a monetary fine – for making available such scientifically important document which could have easily served the purpose of conserving biodiversity in the second most biodiverse country of the world.

Fair Use Doctrine

In general, Fair Use is a safety filter incorporated with a view to maintain a balance between rights to have access to information of public at large without hampering right to property of the copyright holder. This doctrine was firstly recognized by Britisher’s as a concept of “test copyright”[1] . It was incorporated into the Copyright Act of 1976[2]. In US, copyright was originated with a view to elevate the “importance of scholarly access”. It was invented to “assist learning” but instant case is an example how this system failed to serve the purpose.[3] In the words of renowned academician, De Vos,

 “Fair use, a doctrine of U.S. law situated within copyright, is an influence within the institutional and political arrangements, the infrastructure that points to “the presence and operations of standards and classifications, which lean heavily on all writing practices”

Not in all cases, acknowledging the source of copyrighted information amounts to “taking permission” from copyright holder. This is because there is no straight jacket framework to stipulate what exactly amounts to be permitted under doctrine of Fair Use. Although, it has been argued in lengths in several point of time, but still it depends on particular facts and circumstances of the case. Some of the examples of activities that are taken under the doctrine by US courts are:

“quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”[4]

Limitations and Exceptions for the use of Copyright protected work

Under US Copyright laws, this right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright law[5]. Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and most importantly research. Diego can claim the doctrine of Fair Use if he can prove that he had borrowed the content for research purpose. In one of his statement Diego inter-alia said, he wasn’t making a personal profit from sharing the impugned article—he simply intended for other scientists like him to be able to access and cite this scientific research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The nature and purpose of use was clearly to share data amongst fellow learners and it was never intended to make any profit. The fact that Diego didn’t have any monetary agreement with Scribd further strengthens his argument.

Under Columbian Copyright Laws, the Fair use doctrine is very limited. Instead, it has a list of exception and limitations to the rights of authors. These exceptions are not compatible new era digital situations and needs to be urgently amended. Further under Columbian Criminal Law, the necessary ingredients to held one criminally liable for such copyright infringement are: mens rea and antijurídica. Mens rea is the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime. Certainly, in the instant case, this ingredient does not find any place as Diego never intended to harm the author. For that matter, the author also not known to him and thus it is almost impossible to possess malice for some unknown person. Secondly antijurídica: which means whether there was actual harm against the economic rights of the author. As mentioned earlier, the impugned article was available free of cost on internet. It was Scribd, who later on started charging money for it. Moreover, the act of Diego added economic value to the impugned article. It is evident from the fact that Scribd made the impugned article paid only after it has been shared by Diego which may be due to increase in viewership of it. Thus, it can be inferred that Diego directly or indirectly, only added value to the article and in no way degraded or diminished its value.

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Colombia, the highest criminal judicial tribunal and Court of Cassation, ruled that, in order to establish criminal copyright infringement, it is necessary to ask whether the allegedly criminal conduct is profit-making, whether it causes effective injury and whether the intention is to cause harm on the right holder. Judicial interpretation on copyright issues is scarce and uncertain in Colombia. In this context, the Supreme Court’s Cassation ruling 29,188 (released on 30 April 2008) has set guidelines for “the development of national jurisprudence on the nature, scope and meaning of the criminal protection of copyright. [6]

Berne three-step test

As discussed earlier, the doctrine of fair use puts limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright holders. It set forward certain exceptions and limitations which serves as an exception to Copyright infringement subjected to facts and circumstances of the case. There has been a long discussion on whether the copyright holders have unlimited exclusive rights to their work. On the contrary, a strong set of limitations and exceptions is deemed necessary to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms of users, to regulate competition and industry practice, to promote the dissemination of information, and to alleviate the symptoms of market failure.[7]  In a nutshell, the test “sets limits to limitations on exclusive rights” [8]and allows limitations

  1. “in certain special cases”

It requires that a limitation or exception in national legislation should be clearly defined and should be “narrow in its scope and reach” in a quantitative as well as a qualitative sense. That does not mean, however, that every situation to which the limitation could apply needs to be explicitly identified, provided that the scope of the limitation is known and particularized.[9]In the instant case these limitation may extend to throwing the impugned article in public domain of learners. It may be taken as a precedent for other scholarly works which are far away from the reach of learners from ‘not so developed’ nation. In this way such highly informative work may explicitly be coined under the head of “special cases” of Berne’s convention.

  1. “that do not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work”

It inter-alia means that the said limitation or exception in the national legislation is way higher than the normal level of exploitation of work and if such extent of exploitation is permitted will deprive the rightful copyright holder of significant or tangible commercial gains.[10]It depends on what status does a country give to its research and development. No doubt, individual’s exclusive copyrights are subjected to protection but not at the cost of nation’s development. In a way, an individual is a part of the state and hence the state’s development must be kept at higher pedestal when it comes to research and development.

  1. “that do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author / right-holder”.

The terminologies in this step require high interpretation as they have not been explicitly defined elsewhere. It contains an important proportionality test in the way that the harm to the right-holders has to be reasonably related to the users’ benefits. In other words, the prejudice has to be proportionate.[11]It takes immense effort to make a scholarly work worth informative and the individual interest cannot be ignored wholly. The possible way out can be that the state fix a moderate price of such works which will serve both the state and the copyright holder.


Instant case epitomizes the darker side of the restrictions placed by the old and non-compatible laws on the exclusive economic rights of the authors. In my opinion there is no justice in such laws if they criminalize sharing of such scholarly research works. Gomez shared the impugned article with a view to foster the protection of biodiversity of his country but helping others with similar ambitions to access the scholarly work. Learners of this kind are vast in number who unintentionally falls in to the complex cobwebs of prohibitive restraints of copyright. Penalizing and criminalizing healthy content sharing will lead to formation of large army of like-minded people aggrieved from such bogus legal system. It is an imminent step to ensure that learners are not made criminals for promoting scientific progress and exercising their creative expression.

It is a well accepted fact that it is highly difficult for students of developing countries to attain such informative scholarly work and hence, such sharing, in my opinion should not be termed as offense as long as the copyright holder retains its moral rights. However, it won’t be totally non-expectable to hope for a law that does not criminalizes such sharing of scholarly works done without malice or intention to draw personal benefits, especially when that work is actually being used for the development and application of scientific progress, which the prime objective of the copyright laws.

[1] Great Britain’s Statute of Anne of 1709

[2] 17 U.S.C. § 107

[3] Logie, John. (2006).”Copyright in increasingly digital academic contexts: What it takes” (WIDE paper #7) retrieved on 28 August 2014 from .

[4] Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law, 1961, retrieved on 28 August 2014 from

[5] title 17, U. S. Code

[6] “Colombian ruling on copyright: Without profit  there is no criminal offence “ by carobotero · Bogotá (Colombia) · May 15th, 2008 last retrieved on 28 August 2014 from

[7] Guibault, L. (2002), Copyright Limitations and Contracts – An Analysis of the Contractual Overridability of Limitations on Copyright, Kluwer Law International, The Hague

[8] Senftleben, M. (2004), Copyright, Limitations and the Three-Step Test – An Analysis of the Three-Step Test in International and EC Copyright Law, Kluwer Law International, The Hague

[9] WTO Copyright Panel decision (2000), case WT/DS160, United States – Section 110 (5) of the US Copyright Act, Page 32.

[10] WTO Copyright Panel decision (2000), case WT/DS160, United States – Section 110 (5) of the US Copyright Act, Page 44.

[11] WTO Copyright Panel decision (2000), case WT/DS160, United States – Section 110 (5) of the US Copyright Act, Page 57.

About the Author: Mr. Ananya Pratap Singh, an Intern at Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys.