Newspaper PDFs still in circulation


Despite the court’s decision, newspaper PDFs are still circulating online, causing the sector to lose money.

Bengaluru: Hundreds of Telegram channels and websites offer free and paid newspapers in Portable Document Formats (PDFs). 

Indian Newspaper Society (INS) states, the circulation of newspaper PDFs  through social media organizations is unlawful. The practice, which has gained traction since the March 2020 lockdown, is a violation of intellectual property rights and, in addition to harming the sector, it also poses risk of misinformation to the society.  

Vinaypratap Singh, an intellectual property rights lawyer said, “under the Indian Copyright Act, a person may not copy, publish, or convey a ‘work’ to the public without the approval of the work’s owner.” A similar prohibition is in place in India’s information technology law as well. 

According to  copyright law, the concept of ‘fair dealing’ does not totally restrict the use of a literary work. Article 13 of the TRIPS Agreement (Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights),, specifies that “such exceptions to exclusive rights shall only be recognised to the extent that they do not exploit the work or adversely degrade the right-interests.”

In cases involving copyright violation of a newspaper, the courts have taken the accuser’s side. In ‘Bennett Coleman & Company Limited and others versus Ajay Kumar’, a website was found liable for copyright infringement   of Bennett Coleman and other news outlet’s publications.  The website was providing free PDFs to students.

In Jagran Prakashan Limited versus Telegram FZ LLC, the court held that a messaging service could not distribute an e-copy of the newspaper without permission. The publishers, in their lawsuit, claimed that their e-paper is available on Readers of the newspaper have the choice of subscribing to the physical/print edition or visiting the accuser’s website to view the articles.

The Delhi High Court ruled that the publisher was  the sole owner of the copyright in the literary work in question and that they had complete ownership of it in all material forms. As a result, the defendant’s activities in illegally circulating copies of the e-newspaper resulted in a violation of its rights. The publisher  was granted an interim injunction against the defendants by the court. 

However, even with the law and court rulings in place, there are several Telegram groups/ channels that continue distributing newspaper PDFs, and a few newspaper PDF vendors have turned it into a business.

Lalit Banna, a Telegram group admin, who circulates the newspaper PDFs said “we have subscriptions of all the newspapers – national, international, and vernacular newspapers too. We download it together and circulate it in our private telegram groups. We charge Rs. 100 for one month and Rs. 500 for six months. Readers anyways have to pay  relatively the same amount for newspapers’ subscriptions but here, we give them access to all significant newspapers.” 

Readers as well seem to be comfortable using websites and telegram channels to get the newspaper PDFs.

Mahesh, a newspaper PDF consumer says, “I regularly access newspaper PDFs through telegram channels, they provide it for free. I find it very practical to read a newspaper online because the physical newspaper comes late in the morning, plus we cannot read physical newspaper in crowded public transport. Also, on telegram channels we can enjoy the variety of newspapers.”

“I took a one-month subscription from one online platform,” Kshitij, who has paid for the online newspaper platform, said. “Because it is a private group and not a public channel, there is no risk of copyright infringement. Once I pay for the e-newspapers, i don’t have to keep looking for available sources of newspaper PDF.”

However, getting an online newspaper PDF is not that easy. Nikhil S, another newspaper PDF consumer says, “We have to keep a track of websites and telegram channels, the admins may shut down the channel or website any time. Sometimes Telegram  also shuts down channels due to copyright infringement. Therefore, it’s a little tricky  to always keep a track of available newspaper PDF sources. Anyways we get all the newspapers free of cost, so the struggle is worth it.”

The practice of downloading news stories from e-papers as PDFs and posting them on social media runs the risk of spreading misinformation. Shailesh Gupta, former Indian Newspaper Society president has said in a report, “The content of PDFs can be manipulated and changed. We cannot allow this to happen because we always aim to provide our readers with accurate information.”

Shashi Panniker, a manager at the Media research user council of India which conducts the Indian readership survey (IRS) said, since the newspaper PDF circulation has increased on a large scale since March 2020, the newspaper publishers claim that newspaper piracy is leading them into readership loss and hence, revenue loss. However, the readership survey hasn’t been conducted since 2019 to verify the fact. 

Panniker added,“we could not conduct the readership survey this year or the last year due to Covid-19 outbreak, we simply could not reach the required sample size for the research. But in May 2022 we will probably publish our report.”