Is Sharing PDFs of e-papers Illegal?

courtesy image

Kenya Copyrights Board (Kecobo) executive director Edward Sigei on Saturday said that there has been an increase of digital publications being forwarded on social media.

“Anyone who tries to circumvent technical protection measures placed on digital platforms to access these works and downloads commits an offence,” said Sigei.

KECOBO says both the sender and the recipient are committing an offence of being in possession of unauthorised digital copies and those found guilty could face up to 10 years in prison.

A repeat offender could face up to 10 times the market value of the copyright product shared or Sh2000 for each infringing copy. Alternatively, the guilty could face a jail term of 20 years.

Intellectual property is an internationally agreed system of incentives to support creators and innovators to release products useful for improved human experience.

These infringe on intellectual property rights (IPR), including copyright, protected under Articles 11 and 40 of the Constitution, which place an obligation on the government to support, promote and protect them.

The Constitution and laws extend this obligation to corporate bodies and individuals based or domiciled in Kenya — and foreign entities by virtue of international treaties and conventions.

Each IPR system consists of exclusive rights that belong to the authors and inventors or their corporate employers. Any infringing party becomes liable to criminal and civil action.

According to KECOBO publications forwarded on WhatsApp groups, Telegram, Facebook or Twitter has led to a significant drop in income by some media houses.

Since the onset of digital publishing, the 4th estate has made available copies of its e-papers online at a cost.

According to the Copyrights Act of 2001, distributing the papers online is a crime, the suspects would have to pay a fine five times the market product of each shared copyrighted product or Sh1,000 for each infringing product.

The criminal acts include the offence of circumvention of technical protection devices by way of hacking into ICT systems; making copies by downloading e-paper files and selling or illegal distribution of the illegally obtained content through all forms of social media as well as emails.

For one to share the newspaper articles through any of the above means, they require the express authority of the rights holder, in this case, the media company that owns the newspaper.

Sigei disclosed that a major local publication had registered a complaint with Kecobo.

Apart from losing significant revenue from illegal online sales, the papers’ reputation has also come under siege. In some cases, malicious people have deliberately twisted the original headlines and shared them on digital platforms.

“We are currently tracking about four people who are thought to be mainly responsible for this,” he said.

It still is, however, an unresolvable task as little is know on how KECOBO will stop the online distributions because Kenya has unregulated online platforms. 

In India, Anti Fake News War Room (AFWA) found that circulating e-paper PDFs given by the newspaper organisation free of cost is not illegal, but downloading and then copying the e-paper or a portion of it in PDFs and circulating it on Telegram and WhatsApp is illegal.

The concern is regarding PDFs created by copying from e-papers and pushed on social media to help the aggregators. This is affecting business, particularly if the e-paper is a paid service, says Indian Newspaper Society  INS president Shailesh Gupta.

“It is okay to forward PDF files which are free, but it is not okay to copy a PDF from a paid e-paper service and forward it. Basically, it is being targeted for aggregators who are trying to increase their traffic because of other newspapers; it is piracy,” Gupta said.

Charged with copyright infringement: Pwani University student Silvans Omondi.

Last year, Silvans Omondi, 23, an IT student at Pwani University, was charged with infringing copyrights of The Standard newspaper. He appeared before Chief Magistrate Hestone Nyaga. Omondi unlawfully made soft copies with intent to defraud, which he falsely purported to have been issued by The Standard Group PLC, the court heard.

According to particulars of his charge sheet, Omondi committed the offence on diverse dates between September 9 and 15, jointly with others not before the court.

A Standard  Group employee, the court was told,  came across a WhatsApp group with a message containing the Standard Newspaper of the day in PDF format that was being circulated on social media.

Omondi, however, denied the charges and was released on a personal bond of Sh200,000 pending hearing of the case on March 12, next year.

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