The Digital India project by Indian government has short listed areas like education, judiciary, healthcare, etc to be taken up for development and implementation. All these fields would be strengthened by using information and communication technologies (ICT) for effective and transparent delivery of public services in India. For instance, India would strengthen and rejuvenate Indian Judiciary by trying to establish e-courts under the Digital India project. Unfortunately, the e-courts project of India has recently face a major setback when the e-committee refused to record proceeding in courts in electronic manner.
On the positive side, the e-books project of Indian government under the Digital India project has shown some affirmative developments. Digitisation of books is also undergoing in some of the libraries of India. We have a national digital preservation policy of India that can be helpful in the digitisation drive in general and digital preservation in India in particular.
However, while performing the digitisation of traditional books and other academic materials, Indian government must keep in mind the legal mandates of Public records Act, 1993 and Information Technology Act, 2000. Similarly, there are certain legal requirements while converting, selling, distributing, uploading and making available e-books to the end users. This is more so where international users are involved as that would require compliance with laws of multiple jurisdictions.
Needless to mention, e-commerce laws of India would also be required to be followed by various stakeholders where commercial interests are involved. For instance, if an e-commerce website is selling e-books to international end users there are complicated set of laws that are applicable in such circumstances.
Further, conflict of laws in cyberspace has added its own set of problems while dealing with e-books at international and national levels. Intellectual property rights protection at the international level is really tedious when Internet and cyberspace is involved. Even a simple demand for basic electronic details of the accused offender may take months to materialise when foreign technology companies are involved.
In the international market, regulations of and litigation in the field of books publication and e-books are fast increasing. For instance, Apple was fined in Beijing court for unauthorised e-books sale. Similarly, publishers entered into a settlement with European Union for e-books price fixation. The Penguin Group also settled an e-book price escalation lawsuit recently. Amazon has also settled its dispute with Hachette recently involving e-books.
As far as India is concerned, e-commerce players like Amazon, Flipkart, etc are already engaged in selling of e-books in India. However, predatory pricing and taxation issues are still not clear in India. In fact, the Federation of Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Associations in India (FPBAI) has questioned the predatory pricing tactics adopted by Indian e-commerce players selling the books. There would be much more disputes and controversies when e-books would be involved as there is no settled law in India in this regard.
There is also great chances that the terms and conditions and other legal documents of various e-commerce players are not drafted as per Indian laws and this would create legal problems to parties dealing with the website. In some cases these legal documents may be drafted in an anti competitive manner and may also be detrimental to the interests of the consumers. Indian government is planning to amend the consumer protection law of India to protect consumers’ rights in the e-commerce era.
At Perry4Law we have been dealing with publishing industry related legal issues in general and e-books related international and national legal issues in particular. From our experience we can just say that conversion and selling of e-books is not an easy task and these activities require techno legal compliances on the part of various stakeholders, including Indian government.