Liability of E-Retailers – A Copyright Battle


Flipkart and Amazon (e-retail giants) are at loggerheads again. The matter concerns the online sale of Amish Tripathi’s book `Scion of Ikshvaku’. This time it is Flipkart which has been sued by the Westland, a Tata owned entity, for alleged infringement under both the copyright and IT Acts, for the unauthorized sale of the aforementioned book.

According to Westland, they had entered into an exclusive agreement with Amazon for a period of two months to sell the book online. These exclusive deals that are entered into between publishers and such e-commerce platforms are becoming more commonplace. Websites try to come up with various innovative methods to capitulate on the demand of a particular book. For example for the launch of Tripathi’s latest book Amazon delivered numerous signed copies to devoted fans at midnight. The hype around a bestselling author’s book makes these exclusive deals lucrative for both parties

Owing to this exclusive deal Westland objected the selling of Amish Tripathi’s much anticipated book on Filpkart. Flipkart denied all allegations stating that it is only a nexus between the customer and seller and that it gave sellers the freedom to sell items of their choice. The Delhi High Court refrained from passing a restraint order against Flipkart and ordered it to reply by 4th August, 2015.

The situation is similar to the incident last year when Flipkart has the exclusive right to sell Chetan Bhagat’s book ‘Half Girlfriend’, but the book was also being sold on Amazon. The question here is not about two feuding e-retail giants. The issue is about the liability of these intermediaries for the acts of the sellers. Their primary work is to facilitate or make it easy for a buyer to find a seller. However, being the only link between a buyer and a seller what is the extent to which these e-retailers can be held responsible?

From a legal stand point the things are still unclear.  The present case is just one in string of recent cases against online retailers. Recently Nalli, the Chennai based silk saree retailer, issued a cease and desist notice to Snapdeal for unauthorized use of its trademarks and photographs.  Snapdeal subsequently removed all infringing material from its website.  In May 2015, Shree Meena Creations filed a suit against e-retailers like Flipkart, Amazon and eBay for selling replicas of its copyrighted sarees, but the matter was not admitted in the Court.

Hopefully with this case the Court will be able to bring some clarity with respect to the liability of these e-retailers.


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