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Online Games Involving Money Now Banned in Karnataka

In a major setback to the Online Gaming platforms and all other gaming entities in Karnataka falling under the category of wagering or betting, the Karnataka Government on 5th October 2021 notified the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021, (“Act”/”Amendment”) which prohibited all forms of online gaming involving a transfer of money.

The controversial legislation comes in the backdrop of the upcoming T20 World Cup involving a huge stake for online gaming companies, including MPL, Dream11, to name a few. Further, it is said to damage Bangalore/Karnataka’s position as the country’s start-up capital which houses about 92 gaming companies and employs over 4,000 persons. 

Key Amendments Made Through the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021

The Amendment widened the scope of certain definitions under Section 2 of the Act. Some of the key amendments are:  

The definition of the term “Gaming” under Section 2(7) has been revised to include online games that involve “all forms of wagering or betting, including in the form of tokens valued in terms of money paid before or after issue of it, or electronic means and virtual currency, electronic transfer of funds in connection with any game of chance“.

Similarly, Section 2(11) that defines “Instruments of gaming” has been substantially expanded and now includes any article used or intended to be used as a subject or means of gaming, including computers, computer system, mobile app or internet or cyberspace, virtual platform, computer network, computer resource, any communication device, electronic applications, software and accessory or means of online gaming, any document, register or record or evidence of any gaming in electronic or digital form, the proceeds of any online gaming as or any winning or prizes in money or otherwise distributed or intended to be distrusted in respect of any gaming“.

The Amendment has also introduced a new Section 12(A) that defines “online gaming” as “games as defined in clause (7) played online by means of instruments of gaming, computer, computer resource, computer network, computer system or by mobile app or internet or any communication device, electronic application, software or on any virtual platform;

Further, Section 78 has been amended to criminalize activities related to opening certain forms of gaming centres and penalize anyone who opens, keeps or uses cyber cafes, computer resources, mobile apps, the internet, or any communication device as defined in the IT Act for online gaming. Offences under Section 78 have been made cognizable and bailable.

The Amendment has also increased the nature of, and scope of punishments for various offences. Offences under Section 78 and Section 87 of the Act that deals with gaming in public streets are punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to ten thousand rupees. 

Punishments under Section 79, which criminalizes keeping common gaming house, and Section 80, which criminalizes gaming in common gaming-house, have been increased to imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to one lakh rupees. 

Previously, Sections 79 and Section 80 did not apply to wager in games of pure skill. The Amendment removed this exception, bringing games of skill as well under the purview of the ban.

Judicial Stand on Similar Bans Placed on Online Gaming

Recently in the case of Junglee Games v. State of Tamil Nadu[1], the Madras High Court struck down the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, which was similar to the Amendment in Karnataka, holding that such a blanket ban was excessive and disproportionate and that it was violative of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

The Rajasthan High Court in Saahil Nalwaya v. State of Rajasthan and Ors. [2] held that online fantasy sports, which functions under the Charter for Online Fantasy Sports Platforms of the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, the self-regulatory body in the online fantasy gaming industry which we have discussed before, are protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court in Avinash Mehrotra v. The State of Rajasthan[3], dismissed an SLP from a decision of the High Court of Rajasthan, thereby upholding the judgements of the Rajasthan High Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and the Bombay High Court, that games such as Dream11 do not involve any commission of the offence of gambling and betting.

Considering these judicial stands, the constitutional and legal validity of the Amendment is also in question, and the Amendment will likely be challenged in Court.

 

Effects of the Amendment Banning Online Gaming in Karnataka

Immediately after the Amendment Act was notified, Online platforms started geotagging and blocking access to their apps for users in Karnataka. While MPL and PayTM First seem to have blocked access to their users in Karnataka, some other online fantasy sports apps are still trying to interpret and adhere to the new legislation.

Industry experts predict that the ban will impact over 10% of online transactions in the country and will cause around 7-12% loss of revenue to the online gaming industry other than damaging the investor-friendly tag of Karnataka. 

 

The Way Forward

This move is the latest of the numerous attempts by legislatures in different States of the Country to ban online gaming. Such actions are criticized for showcasing the misplaced concern of the legislature for online games, and critics advocate for regulation instead of an outright ban. While clarity is needed and perhaps the rules which are yet to be framed may help clear the air, the Gaming industry may not wait until then from moving to Court challenging the blanket ban.

References

[1] (2021) SCC OnLine Mad 2762.

[2] D.B. Civil Writ Petition No. 2026/2021.

[3] SLP (Civil) Diary No. 18478/2020.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Aidan Howe on Unsplash

The order of the Mumbai Tribunal has, indeed, widened the scope of ‘onus’ placed on the assessee to prove the genuineness of a particular transaction. Such ‘onus’ will not be deemed to be discharged by merely filing the documents before the tax authorities, but the assessee would have to go one step further to justify the rationale of such transactions in order to prove that the transaction has not been entered as a colorable device to defraud the Revenue.

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Heightened Onus on Assessee to Prove Genuineness of Share Subscription Money Routed Through Web of Entities

The Hon’ble Mumbai Tribunal in the case of Leena Power Tech Engineers Pvt Ltd[1] has held that the onus (i.e. burden) is on the assessee to prove the ‘bonafides’ or ‘genuineness’ of the share application money credited in the books of accounts. The Tribunal further remarked that it would be superficial approach to examine assessee’s claim only on the basis of documents filed and overlook the unusual pattern in the documents filed by the assessee and pretend to be oblivious of the ground realities.  

Considering the fact that the monies were routed through complex web of entities, which failed to inspire any confidence about the genuineness of the investing company and made it looks like a shell company, the Tribunal upheld the additions made by the Assessing Officer (AO) in the hands of the assessee with respect to the receipt of share application money.

 

Facts – Leena Power Tech Engineer’s Pvt. Ltd.:

In the instant case, the assessee had received share application monies from Rohan Vyapar Private Limited (RVPL) and Manbhawan Commercial Pvt Ltd (MCPL). The equity shares were issued at 900% premium on the face value of Rs 10 each i.e. Rs 90 per share. The assessee had issued 3,78,290 equity shares to RVPL and accordingly received an amount aggregating to Rs 3,78,29,600. Similarly, the assessee had received an amount aggregating to Rs 4,35,00,000 from MCPL.

The case of the assessee was reopened by the Assessing Officer (‘AO’) on the basis of certain information received from the investigation wing which mentioned that the assessee has received share application money from RVPL which was subjected to routing through several layers and ultimately has its source in of huge cash deposits in one of the branches of ICICI Bank.

The transaction flow has been elaborated below for ease of reference.



Assessee’s Contentions: Relevant documentary evidence produced

The Assessee’s contentions have been summarized below:

The assessee contended that it had submitted all the relevant documentary evidence such as details of the subscribers to the share capital, share premium, bank statement, justification of share premium (computed on a scientific basis), share valuation by cash flow method, and ledger confirmation from the subscribers. The assessee further submitted that the Revenue had also issued a notice under section 133(6) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (Act) which was duly replied along with the details of the transaction with the assessee, ledger account, return of income, audited balance sheet, etc. and accordingly it was contended that the assessee had discharged its initial onus cast upon it and now it is for the revenue authorities to prove otherwise.

It was further contended that the proviso to section 68[2] of the Act inserted with effect from 1 April 2013 cannot have retrospective operation. In this regard, reliance was placed on the ruling of Hon’ble jurisdictional High Court in the case of Gagandeep Infrastructure Pvt Ltd[3].

The Assessee further contended that the companies from which the assessee had received the share subscriptions were companies with proper net-worth and these companies were properly assessed to tax and have not been declared as shell companies by the Government or any official body and just because five levels below these companies, there are cash deposits in some bank accounts, the receipts cannot be rejected as lacking bonafide.

Accordingly, it was contended that the entries in the books of accounts of the companies subscribing to the shares cannot be brought to tax in the hands of the assessee.

Revenue’s Contentions: Assessee has failed to prove ‘Bonafides’

The primary contention of the Revenue was that the assessee has failed to prove the ‘bonafides’ of the share application money. Further, the Revenue further contended that the surrounding circumstance of the transaction clearly demonstrates that the transaction is not bonafide and the assessee is a beneficiary of a sophisticated money-laundering racket wherein the money is routed through multiple layering of accounts to the accounts of entities subscribing to the share capital of the assessee.

The Revenue further contended that it was the responsibility of the assessee to show the genuineness of the share application money received and merely producing PAN, income-tax returns, and financial statements of the subscriber do not prove that the transaction is bonafide. It was pointed out that there were hardly any overnight balances in the bank accounts of the companies subscribing to the shares of the assessee company, and all this indicates that these companies are merely conduit companies.

Issue Before the Tribunal:

The question which arose before the Tribunal was whether the learned Commissioner of Income-tax (Appeals) was justified in deleting the addition of Rs 8,13,29,600 as unexplained credit under section 68 of the Act in the hands of the assessee.

Mumbai Tribunal’s Ruling:

The Mumbai Tribunal observed and held as under:

At the outset, the Tribunal observed that there cannot be any dispute on the fundamental legal position that the onus is on the assessee to prove ‘bonafides’ or ‘genuineness’ of the share application money credited in the books of accounts and to prove the nature and source on the money to the satisfaction of the assessing officer.

The Tribunal placed reliance on the cases of Youth Construction Pvt Ltd[4], United Commercial and Industrial Co (P.) Ltd[5] & Precision Finance (P.) Ltd[6] and noted the kind of explanations which assessee is expected to provide:

  1. proof regarding the identity of the share applicants;
  2. their creditworthiness to purchase the shares; and
  3. genuineness of the transaction as a whole.

The Tribunal remarked that the onus of the assessee of explaining nature and source of credit does not get discharged merely by filing confirmatory letters, or demonstrating that the transactions are done through the banking channels, or even by filing the income tax assessment particulars.

The Tribunal further went on to add that, being a final fact-finding authority, it cannot be superficial in its assessment of the genuineness of a transaction and this call has to be taken not only in the light of the face value of the documents presented before the Tribunal but also in the light of all the surrounding circumstances, the preponderance of human probabilities and ground realities. The Tribunal placed reliance on the case of Durga Prasad More[7] wherein it was held that “If all that an assessee who wants to evade tax is to have some recitals made in a document either executed by him or executed in his favour then the door will be left wide open to evade tax. A little probing was sufficient in the present case to show that the apparent was not real. There may be a difference in subjective perception on such issues, on the same set of facts, but that cannot be a reason enough for the fact-finding authorities to avoid taking subjective calls on these aspects and remain confined to the findings on the basis of irrefutable evidence.”

The Tribunal further analyzed the financial statements of RVPL and observed that RVPL has earned only an interest income of Rs 1.13 lakhs and has not carried out any substantial activity during the relevant period. Further, the Tribunal found it difficult to believe that company handling investments in excess of Rs 10 crores and making such aggressive investments as buying shares for Rs 3.78 crores, at a huge premium of nine times the face value of shares, in the private limited and wholly unconnected companies, without any management control, will operate in such a modest manner. This defies logic and such transactions do not take place in the real-life world. The Tribunal also examined the bank account of RVPL and noted that there are series of transactions that do not inspire any confidence about the genuineness of the investing company but make it looks like a shell company acting as a conduit.

The Tribunal also observed that the entities involved in the transaction only provide different layers to the transaction and de facto hide the true investor. The assessee was also unaware of the actual beneficial investor in his company.

Additionally, the Tribunal examined, in detail, the valuation carried out by the assessee on the basis of Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) method and rejected the same thereby holding that the share premium at which the shares are issued is wholly unrealistic.   

A similar analysis was also carried out by the Tribunal with respect to another investor ‘MCPL’.

In light of the above facts and circumstances, the Tribunal rejected the assessee’s contention and held that the transactions under consideration are not ‘bonafide’ and accordingly restored the additions made by the AO.

Our Observation:

The order of the Mumbai Tribunal has, indeed, widened the scope of ‘onus’ placed on the assessee to prove the genuineness of a particular transaction. Such ‘onus’ will not be deemed to be discharged by merely filing the documents before the tax authorities, but the assessee would have to go one step further to justify the rationale of such transactions in order to prove that the transaction has not been entered as a colorable device to defraud the Revenue. The judgment further emphasizes taking a holistic view of the matter based on the surrounding circumstances rather than just relying upon the documentary evidence. Having said this, one has to keep in mind that documentary evidence will always be the primary source of substantiation of a particular transaction.

Going forward, it would be interesting to see the repercussions of this judgment and whether the other Tribunal and lower tax authorities would adopt a similar path and undertake a holistic view of the matter in order to differentiate between the apparent and the real.’

References

[1] [TS-883-ITAT-2021(Mum)]

[2] It provides that where the assessee is a company (not being a company in which the public are substantially interested), and the sum so credited consists of share application money, share capital, share premium or any such amount by whatever name called, any explanation offered by such assessee-company shall be deemed to be not satisfactory, unless— (a) the person, being a resident in whose name such credit is recorded in the books of such company also offers an explanation about the nature and source of such sum so credited; and (b) such explanation in the opinion of the Assessing Officer aforesaid has been found to be satisfactory.

 

[3] (2017) 80 taxmann.com 172 (Bom)

[4] [(2013) 357 ITR 197 (Del)]

[5] [1991] 187 ITR 596 (Cal)]

[6] [1994] 208 ITR 465 (Cal)]

[7] 1971) 82 ITR 540 (SC)

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

The order of the Mumbai Tribunal has, indeed, widened the scope of ‘onus’ placed on the assessee to prove the genuineness of a particular transaction. Such ‘onus’ will not be deemed to be discharged by merely filing the documents before the tax authorities, but the assessee would have to go one step further to justify the rationale of such transactions in order to prove that the transaction has not been entered as a colorable device to defraud the Revenue.

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The Messi Exit: A Legal & Financial Perspective

Behind the passions of the fans, tackled goals, swanky parties and brand endorsements, there is a lot that goes into structuring a football team/club, registration as well as the transfer of a player while maintaining sustainable finances. 

In response to multiple financial irregularities in clubs such as Deportivo La Coruña, Racing Santander, Valencia, Real Zaragoza, Real Mallorca, Albacete, Real Betis etc., the economic control framework was introduced in 2013 to keep clubs financially afloat and maintain competitive sustainability.

At a later stage, FFP (Financial Fair Play) came into effect against errant clubs for breach of regulations. Spain’s economic control- La Liga controls the fire before it can damage (to an extent) by setting a limit to the amount a club can spend, thereby making it easier to stay within limits and preventing the creation of unsustainable debts. 

What were the legal reasons for Messi’ s exit from Barcelona?

 

Recently Argentinean professional footballer Lionel Andrés Messi, popularly known as Leo Messi, decided to part ways with the Spanish football club FC Barcelona and join the French football club Paris Saint-Germain. Messi had been with the Spanish club for the last 21 years and their association came to an end on 30th June 2021, when they decided to move on.

Messi had agreed to a new five-year contract with Barcelona, however on 8th August 2021, the legendary football player announced his exit from the Spanish club, by signing a two-year contract with the French club Paris Saint-Germain, with the option of further extension up to a year. FC Barcelona announced that despite the agreement between the club and Messi, they were not able to honour the new contract due to the Spanish football league’s (LaLiga’s) financial fair-play rules. 

 

What is LaLiga Financial Fair-play Rule? 

 

Under the LaLiga fair play rule, each club is provided with a cost limit for each season, which includes the wages of the players, the coaching staff, physios, reserve teams, etc. Clubs have the flexibility to decide how the wages are distributed, as long as the overall limit is not breached. Factors taken into consideration for setting the financial cap are inclusive of expected revenues, profits and losses from previous years, existing debt repayments, and sources of external financing among others. In this case, the Catalan club could not accommodate Messi’s contract within the financial limit for the upcoming year, even though Messi was allegedly willing to take a 50% pay cut. 

Considering the fact that Messi is Barcelona’s record scorer with 751 goals and 10 La Liga titles, Messi’s exit could mean a heavy blow for the world’s most valuable[1] European football club. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales, and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales, and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season. However, there is no question over how Messi has played an important role in bringing laurels to Barcelona over the past few years, which has garnered a significant fan following, not just for the footballer, but also for the club. Thus, his exit may likely cause a dip in the viewership and fan following which will directly affect the Club’s revenue.

Typically for a footballer, his contract with any club would include basic salary, signing-on fees, royalty fees, and objectives based on games. Apart from these, some of the other key element included in a contract is his image rights, merchandising right and licensing deals, which form a major portion of any footballer’s gross income. 

 

What are Image Rights? 

Image rights are the expression of a personality in the public domain. For an athlete, it will include their name, photo, and likeness, signature, personal brand, slogans, or logos, etc. Generally, football clubs try to extract a greater percentage from the image rights of a player, in a club capacity as compared to their personal capacity. Club capacity is usually when the image rights of the player are used in connection with or combined with his name, colours, crest, strip, logos identifying him as a player for his club. Personal capacity is usually when the player is appearing in and conducting activities outside his role as a player at the club. 

Any player leaving the club would have an impact on the commercial revenue generated by the club in the form of sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales as well as digital content. This would be especially notable for a player like Messi, whose personal brand value boasts over 130 trademarks. Messi’s trademark portfolio consists of mostly a single class trademark in his home country of Argentina, with others filed or registered in China, Brazil, EU, Malaysia, UK, Spain, Canada, Chile, and the US. The most common goods and services represented in Messi’s trademark portfolio are class 25 (clothing and footwear), class 28 (games, toys, and sporting apparatus) and class 9 (computer software). Apart from the above classes, class 18 has been filed in multiple applications.

The trademark consists of either the word mark MESSI/LIONEL MESSI or his logo. This means that Barcelona will no longer be able to use the footballer’s name or logo for apparel and merchandise sales, which will directly impact its revenue as most clubs collect a portion of the sales revenue. Also, Messi’s exit means that the club will have no control over his image rights to attract corporate sponsorships. Further, Messi’s huge online presence, with over 276 million Instagram followers, which is more than double of Barcelona’s official account (100 million), will have a direct impact on any advertising or publicity that the club may generate. 

A player of Messi’s stature, brand, and persona is significant to any club. How the present scenario is played with the new club and how much impact Messi’s presence will bring to Paris Saint-Germain is yet to be seen. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season.

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Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code: Shifting Paradigm of Social & Digital Media Platforms

It has been just over six months since the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (the “Rules“) have been notified. However, these six months have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the (Internet) Intermediaries and Digital Media platforms, especially Social Media platforms who have tried to muddle through the slew of compliance obligations now imposed through these eccentric Rules. Notwithstanding, some of them had to face the wrath of the Government and even Courts for the delay in adherence.

On this topic, we are trying to stitch together a series of articles covering the entire gamut of the Rules, including their objective, applicability, impact, and the key issues around some of the rules being declared unconstitutional, etc.

In our first article, we analyse the timeline, objectives, and applicability of these Rules through some of the definitions provided under the Rules and the IT Act.

Tracing the Roots of the Digital Media Ethics Code 

The initiation of this endeavour can be tracked down to July 26, 2018, when a Calling Attention Motion was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on the misuse of social media and spread of fake news, whereby the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology conveyed the Government’s intent to strengthen the existing legal framework and make social media platforms accountable under the law. Thereafter, the first draft of the proposed amendments to the Intermediary Guidelines, The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules) 2018, was published for public comments on December 24, 2018.

In the same year, the Supreme Court in Prajwala v. Union of India[1] directed the Union Government to form necessary guidelines or Statement of Procedures (SOPs) to curb child pornography online. An ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha studied the issue of pornography on social media and its effects on children and the society and laid its report recommending the facilitation of identification of the first originator of such contents in February 2020.

In another matter, the Supreme Court of India on October 15 2020, issued a notice to the Union Government seeking its response on a PIL to regulate OTT Platforms. The Union Government subsequently on November 9 2020, made a notification bringing digital and online media under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, thereby giving the Ministry the power to regulate OTT Platforms.

On February 25, 2021, the Union Government notified the much-anticipated Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, bringing various digital entities under its purview and imposing new compliances to regulate them.

 

Objectives of the Digital Media Ethics Code

The rising internet and social media penetration in India raises concerns of transparency, disinformation and misuse of such technologies. The Rules address these concerns and bring accountability to social and digital media platforms by mandating the setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism that adheres to statutory timeframes. The Rules also address the legal lacuna surrounding the regulation of OTT platforms and the content available on them and introduces a three-tier content regulation mechanism.

Key definitions and the applicability of the Digital Media Ethics Code

The Rules add on extensively to the 2011 Intermediary Guidelines and also introduce new terms and definitions. To understand the Rules and the compliances thereunder in a holistic manner, it becomes imperative to learn the key terms and definitions. This also addresses concerns of applicability of the Rules to different entities, as they prescribe different sets of compliances to different categories of entities.

Key definitions:

Digital Media as per Rule 2(1)(i) are digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks, including content received, stored, transmitted, edited or processed by

  • an intermediary; or
  • a publisher of news and current affairs content or a publisher of online curated content.

This broadly includes every content available online and every content that can be transmitted over the internet.

Grievance as per Rule 2(1)(j) includes any complaint, whether regarding any content, any duties of an intermediary or publisher under the Act, or other matters pertaining to the computer resource of an intermediary or publisher as the case may be.

Intermediary has not been defined in the Rules, but as per S. 2(1)(w) of the IT Act, intermediary, with respect to any particular electronic record, is any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes.

The first part of the definition lays down that an Intermediary with respect to an electronic record, is any person that receives, stores or transmits that electronic record on behalf of another person.

An entity becomes an intermediary for a particular electronic record if that record is received by, stored in or transmitted through the entity on behalf of a third party. However, as the clause does not use the term “collect” with respect to an electronic record, any data that entities may collect, including IP Addresses, device information, etc., do not fall within the definition’s purview. Hence the entities would not be considered as intermediaries for such data.

Moreover, the second part of the definition lays down that those entities that provide any service with respect to an electronic record would be intermediaries. However, what constitutes “service” has been a key point of discussion in prior cases. In Christian Louboutin Sas v. Nakul Bajaj[2], the Court not only held that the nature of the service offered by an entity would determine whether it falls under the ambit of the definition, but also went on to hold that when the involvement of an entity is more than that of merely an intermediary, i.e., it actively takes part in the use of such record, it might lose safe harbour protection under S. 79 of the Act.

The definition also includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places, and cyber cafes as intermediaries. In Satish N v. State of Karnataka[3], it was held that taxi aggregators like Uber are also intermediaries with respect to the data they store. Therefore, Telecom Service Providers like Airtel, Vi, Jio, etc., Network Service Providers like Reliance Jio, BSNL, MTNL, etc., Internet Service Providers like ACT Fibernet, Hathaway, etc., Search Engines like Google, Bing, etc., Online Payment gateways like Razorpay, Billdesk etc., Online Auction Sites like eBay, eAuction India, etc., Online Market Places like Flipkart, Amazon etc. are all considered intermediaries.

Social Media Intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(w) is an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services. This includes platforms like Tumblr, Flickr, Diaspora, Ello, etc.

Significant Social Media Intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(v) is a social media intermediary having number of registered users in India above such threshold as notified by the Central Government. Currently, the threshold is 5 million users. Platforms that fall under this category would be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Telegram etc.

News & current affairs content as per Rule 2(1)(m) includes newly received or noteworthy content, including analysis, especially about recent events primarily of socio-political, economic or cultural nature, made available over the internet or computer networks, and any digital media shall be news and current affairs content where the context, substance, purpose, import and meaning of such information is in the nature of news and current affairs content. Therefore, news pieces reported by newspapers or news agencies, shared online, on social media, or on digital media platforms are news & current affairs content. This includes contents of such nature created by any person and shared through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. Digital content discussing news and the latest happenings will also come under the purview of this definition.

Newspaper as per Rule 2(1)(n) as a periodical of loosely folded sheets usually printed on newsprint and brought out daily or at least once in a week, containing information on current events, public news or comments on public news. Newspapers like The Hindu, Times of India etc. will fall under this category.

News aggregator as per Rule 2(1)(o) is an entity performing a significant role in determining the news and current affairs content being made available, makes available to users a computer resource that enable such users to access such news and current affairs content which is aggregated, curated and presented by such entity. This includes platforms like Inshorts, Dailyhunt etc.

Online curated content as per Rule 2(1)(1) is any curated catalogue of audio-visual content, other than news and current affairs content, which is owned by, licensed to or contracted to be transmitted by a publisher of online curated content, and made available on demand, including but not limited through subscription, over the internet or computer networks, and includes films, audio visual programmes, documentaries, television programmes, serials, podcasts and other such content. This includes movies and shows available on OTT platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+Hotstar etc.

Publisher of News and Current Affairs Content as per Rule 2(1)(t) includes online paper, news portal, news aggregator, news agency and such other entities, which publishes news and current affairs. This would include websites/apps such as The Wire, The News Minute, Scroll.in, Dkoding.in, The Print, The Citizen, LiveLaw, Inshorts etc.

While the Rules do not include the regular newspapers or replica e-papers of these newspapers, as they come under the Press Council Act, news websites such as Hindustantimes.com, IndianExpress.com, thehindu.com are covered under the Rules, and the Union Government clarified the same on June 10, 2021. The clarification stated that websites of organisations having traditional newspapers and digital news portals/websites of traditional TV Organisations come under the ambit of the Rules.

This does not include news and current affairs reported or posted by laymen or ordinary citizens online, as the scope is limited only to news publishing agencies.

Publisher of Online Curated Content as per Rule 2(1)(u) is a publisher who performs a significant role in determining the online curated content being made available and enables users’ access to such content via internet or computer networks. Such transmission of online currented content shall be in the course of systematic business or commercial activity. This includes all OTT platforms, including Netflix, Prime Video, Voot, Lionsgate, Disney+Hotstar, etc.

The Digital Media Ethics Code Challenged in Court

Part III of the IT Rules has been challenged by many persons in various High Courts. News platforms including The Wire, The Quint, and AltNews moved to the Delhi High Court, alleging that online news platforms do not fall under the purview of Section 87 of the IT Act, under which these Rules are made as the section is only applicable to intermediaries. Section 69A is also limited to intermediaries and government agencies. It is alleged that since such publishers are not intermediaries, they do not fall under the purview of the IT Rules.

A similar petition was moved by LiveLaw, a legal news reporting website before the Kerala High Court, alleging that the Rules violated Articles 13, 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), and 21 of the Constitution and the IT Act.[4] The petitioners contended that the Rules had brought Digital News Media under the purview of the Press Council of India Act and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, without amending either of the two legislations. They also alleged that the rules were undoing the procedural safeguards formed by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal[5] case. In this regard, the Kerala High Court has ordered that no coercive action is to be taken against the petitioner as interim relief.

Recently, the Bombay High Court in Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea v. Union of India[6] delivered an interim order staying Rules 9(1) and 9(3), which provides for publishers’ compliance with the Code of Ethics, and the three tier self-regulation system respectively. The Court found Rule 9(1) prima facie an intrusion of Art. 19(1)(a).

Legality & Enforceability of the Digital Media Ethics Code

Even though six months have passed since the Rules came into force, the legality and enforceability of the Rules are still in question. While most intermediaries, including social media and significant social media intermediaries, have at least partly complied with the Rules, the same cannot be said for publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content. This will have to wait until the challenges to its legality and constitutionality are settled by Courts.

References:

[1] 2018 SCC OnLine SC 3419.

[2] 2018 (76) PTC 508 (Del).

[3] ILR 2017 KARNATAKA 735.

[4] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kerala-high-court-new-it-rules-orders-no-coercive-action-issues-notice-on-livelaws-plea-170983

[5] (2013) 12 SCC 73.

[6] Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (L.) NO.14172 of 2021.

Image Credits: 

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

 

Even though six months have passed since the Rules came into force, the legality and enforceability of the Rules are still in question. While most intermediaries, including social media and significant social media intermediaries, have at least partly complied with the Rules, the same cannot be said for publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content. This will have to wait until the challenges to its legality and constitutionality are settled by Courts.

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Small Entity Status- Can Foreign Companies Claim It?

The government of India has been aggressively pushing for the development and promotion of entrepreneurship in the country. In the Intellectual Property Domain, various concessions have been made for small and upcoming entities. Organizations claiming a ”small entity” status or a “start-up” status while applying for registration are entitled to some additional benefits pertaining to fees and filing requirements.  Here, we briefly look upon the small entity status as per the Indian patent and design rules. 

Intellectual Property Related Government Initiatives to Encourage Small Entities & Startups

In 2020, the Scheme for Facilitating Start-ups Intellectual Property Protection, was launched as an experimental initiative to encourage start-ups to develop and protect their intellectual property, which was extended for a period of three years (April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2023).

Further, the Patent (Amendment) Rules, 2020[1] were notified on October 19, 2020 to simplify the procedure of submitting priority applications and their translations and filing of working statements under form 27. These changes were introduced in consequence to the Delhi High Court’s order in the case of Shamnd Bashir v UOI[2], that resulted in a stakeholder’s consultation.

On November 4, 2020 the Ministry of commerce and Industry[3], notified Patents (2nd Amendment) Rules, 2020[4], making additional filing and prosecution concessions for start-ups and small entities.  The status of start-ups was discussed critically, extending their life for up to ten years. These amendments are set to make protection of intellectual property affordable to every category and class of business. Finally, the government also notified Design Amendment Rules 2021,[5] which recognized start-ups as applicants. The current Locarno classification system[6] and simplified fee structure were introduced specifically to benefit small entities.

 

Categorization of ‘Entities’

 

1.1 Natural Person

Under the Indian Patent Act, natural person includes an individual human being. In this context, the patent application can be filed in the name of one or a group of individuals. Here, the inventorship and ownership lies solely with the inventor and he is entitled to:

  1. Sell
  2. Transfer
  3. License, or
  4. Commercialize their patent as per their want.

1.2 Small Entity

The Indian Patents Rule, 2003 under Rule 2(fa)[7] define ‘small entity’ as:

  • in case of an enterprise engaged in the manufacture or production of goods, an enterprise where the investment in plant and machinery does not exceed the limit specified for a medium enterprise under clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 7 of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006); and
  • in case of an enterprise engaged in providing or rendering of services, an enterprise where the investment in equipment is not more than the limit specified for medium enterprises under clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006).

In calculating the investment in plant and machinery, the cost of pollution control, research and development, industrial safety devices and such other things as may be specified by notification under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006), shall be excluded.

1.3 Start up:

A start-up is an entity recognized as a ‘startup’ by the competent authority under the Startup India initiative and fulfills all the criteria for the same.

A foreign entity shall fall under the category of start-up if it fulfills the criteria of turnover and specified period of incorporation/registration, and submission of a valid declaration to that effect as per the provisions of Start-up India initiative. (In calculating the turnover, reference rates of foreign currency of Reserve Bank of India shall prevail.)

As per the Notification of Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade[8], an entity is considered a start-up  

  1. Up to a period of ten years from the date of incorporation/ registration, if it is incorporated as a private limited company (as defined in the Companies Act, 2013) or registered as a partnership firm (registered under section 59 of the Partnership Act, 1932) or a limited liability partnership (under the Limited Liability Partnership Act, 2008) in India.
  1. Turnover of the entity for any of the financial years since incorporation/ registration has not exceeded one hundred crore rupees.
  2. Entity is working towards innovation, development or improvement of products or processes or services, or if it is a scalable business model with a high potential of employment generation or wealth creation.

Provided that an entity formed by splitting up or reconstruction of an existing business shall not be considered a ‘Startup’.

How to apply for Small Entity Status in India:

 

Any business can apply for the status of small entity under the MSME Development Act, 2006 at udyamregistration.gov.in. Subsequent to a successful registration the business shall be issued a Udyam registration certificate, that can be furnished as proof for availing various government subsidies and benefits. 

A foreign company can also register as an MSME on the same government portal. However, as a preceding step such a company shall register itself as per the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013[9].

Any Indian entity wishing to declare themselves as small entity for the purpose of Patent registration has to furnish the following documents:

  1. Form 28 of the Indian Patent Act:
  2. Proof of Registration Under MSME Act 2006 (Micro, small and medium enterprise development Act, 2006).
  3. Form 1 of the Indian Patent Act (if Fresh Patent Application is being filed).

Any Indian entity wishing to declare themselves as small entity for the purpose of Design registration:

  1. For an Indian entity to claim the status of small entity, it must be registered under the MSME Development Act, 2006.
  2. To file an application as a start-up, the entity should be recognized as startup by a competent authority under the Union government’s Start-up India Initiative.

 

Can a Foreign Company claim Small Entity Status in India?

On a plain interpretation of the requirements under the Patent rules and Design rules, it is clear that a foreign enterprise can claim the status of a small entity or a start-up, provided it is registered and incorporated in India and is engaged in the manufacture of goods and services as specified in the first schedule of the 2006 Act.[10]

Under the MSME Development Act, 2006 an enterprise is defined as:

enterprise” means an industrial undertaking or a business concern or any other establishment, by whatever name called, engaged in the manufacture or production of goods, in any manner, pertaining to any industry specified in the First Schedule to the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 (55 of 1951) or engaged in providing or rendering of any service or services;[11]

With an objective to incentivize the incorporation of OPC (One Person Companies), the Ministry of Corporate Affairs amended the Companies (Incorporation) Rules. The move empowers OPCs to grow without any restrictions on paid up capital and turnover, thereby facilitating their conversion into any other type of company at any time. Additionally, reducing the residency limit for an Indian citizen to set up an OPC from 182 days to 120 days and also allowing Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to incorporate OPCs in India has paved the way for foreign entities to enter Indian markets[12] [13].

 

Application Process for Small Entity Status in India? (Foreign Company):

Patent Rules

A foreign applicant seeking the status of ‘small entity’ for the purpose of filing patent in India, has to submit duly filled Form 28[14], along with the requisite documents of proof.

As per the requirements of Form 28, a foreign applicant has to attach evidentiary documents that verify their status as ‘small entity’ for the want of Rule 2 (fa) of the Patent Rules, 2003. For this purpose, the said documents can include a certified copy of financial statement from a Chartered Accountant, that proves that the investment in plant and machinery and the annual turnover of the entity on the date of filing the application does not exceed the limitations specifications under the MSME Development Act, 2006.

Design Rules

For the purpose of recognitions as a start-up the foreign entity should satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The entity must be a private limited company, limited liability partnership, or partnership firm.
  2. Its turnover at any point during the course of its business (from inception) should not exceed INR 100 crores (approximately USD 13.7 million as on date)
  3. The entity would be considered a start-up only for a period of 10 years from the date of incorporation.
  4. An entity formed by splitting up or reconstruction of an existing business shall not be considered a “Start-up”

For a foreign entity to claim the benefit of being a start-up, an affidavit (which under Indian practices would need to be notarized, although this has not been explicitly mentioned in the Amendment Rules) along with supporting documents must be submitted at the time of filing the application[15], to be submitted with Form 24[16] of the Designs Rules.

References:

[1] https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1668081

[2] writ petition No. WPC- 5590

https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/10/28/patents-amendment-rules-2020-patentee-would-get-flexibility-to-file-a-single-form-27-in-respect-of-a-single-or-multiple-related-patents/

[3] https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/Images/pdf/Patents__2nd_Amendment__Rules__2020.pdf

[4] https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/Images/pdf/Patents__2nd_Amendment__Rules__2020.pdf

[5] https://www.foxmandal.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Indian-Designs-Amendment-Rules-2021.pdf

[6] https://www.wipo.int/classifications/locarno/locpub/en/fr/

[7] https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPORule/1_70_1_The_Patents_Rules_2003_-_Updated_till_1st_Dec_2017-_with_all_Forms.pdf

[8] https://dpncindia.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/DIPP-Notification-dated-19-Feb-2019.pdf

[9] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_22_29_00008_201318_1517807327856&sectionId=185&sectionno=2&orderno=2

[10] https://www.startupindia.gov.in/content/sih/en/bloglist/blogs/How-a-foreign-national-from-China-can-start-and-register-company-in-India.html

[11] https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_46_77_00002_200627_1517807324919&sectionId=9884&sectionno=2&orderno=2

[12] http://164.100.117.97/WriteReadData/userfiles/Notification%201.pdf

[13] http://164.100.117.97/WriteReadData/userfiles/Notification%202.pdf

[14] https://ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOFormUpload/1_40_1/form-28.pdf

[15] https://www.foxmandal.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Indian-Designs-Amendment-Rules-2021.pdf

[16] https://www.ipindia.gov.in/writereaddata/Portal/IPOFormUpload/1_109_1/Form_24.pdf

Image Credits: Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

 

On a plain interpretation of the requirements under the Patent rules and Design rules, it is clear that a foreign enterprise can claim the status of a small entity or a start-up, provided it incorporates itself under the relevant schemes and statutes and is able to furnish documents for proof to the same effect

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Education in India: Time to Connect the Dots and Look at the Big Picture

In the last few days, I read news reports that are seemingly unrelated on the surface. However, I think there exists a deeper connection for those willing to think outside the box. I thought I would use this article to articulate my thoughts on the connections and their possible implications for India. 

India’s New Education Policy expected to gain traction

The first item was about various initiatives announced by the Union government on the first anniversary of India’s National Education Policy (NEP). While internationalization, multiple entry/exit options, and digital education will be key pillars, one other important component is to enable students to pursue first-year Engineering courses in Indian languages.

In the context of the broad-brush changes envisioned to India’s education system, it is time to rethink the role of the UGC as a body that enables the nation’s higher education system in ways beyond disbursing funds to be recognized universities. There also ought to be more harmony between the various Boards that govern school education. The roles of bodies responsible for governing professional education in India- e.g., AICTE, NMC (which replaced the MCI), ICAI, ICSI, ICWAI, Bar Council of India etc. should also be redefined to ensure that India’s professionals remain in tune with the needs of a fast-changing world.

English will play an important role in our continued growth

The second report that caught my attention was on two main points made by Mr. Narayana Murthy (the Founder of Infosys), in a recent media interaction. He stated that it is high time that English be formally acknowledged and designated as India’s official link language, and greater emphasis is given to its teaching and learning in Indian schools. He said that his opinion is based on his first-hand knowledge of many technically qualified students in Bangalore/Karnataka who lose out in the job market largely because they lack a certain expected level of proficiency in English.

In the same interview, Mr. Murthy went on to say that on a priority basis, India needs overseas universities and vocational educational institutions to set up facilities in India to train students and teachers in key areas like nursing. This too makes sense because our healthcare infrastructure needs massive upgrades- and human resources will be critical.

China’s tightening regulations threaten its US$100 Billion EdTechc industry

The third report was on China’s recent decision to tightly regulate its online tutoring companies. The new rules bar online tutoring ventures from going public or raising foreign capital. There are also restrictions on the number of hours for which tutors can teach during weekends and vacations. In fact, the rules go so far as to make online tutorial businesses “not for profit”.

Different views have been expressed on why Chinese authorities have taken this step. Some see it as a means to reduce the cost of children’s education- and thus encourage couples to have more children. They point to this as a logical enabler of the recent relaxations in China’s two-child policy. Others view it as a step designed to clip the wings of Chinese tech companies that are deeply entrenched in many consumer segments, and have, over the past decade, acquired significant financial muscle.

To put into perspective the size of Chinese EdTech companies, consider this data point: Byju’s, arguably India’s largest EdTech company, was valued at over US$16.5 Billion as of mid-June 2021. Despite this high valuation, Byju’s would have been smaller than the top 5 Chinese EdTech players (on the basis of valuations that existed before the recent draconian rules came into effect).

Implications for India

The majority of China’s EdTech ventures are financed through significant venture capital investments from the west. Analysts expect that China’s sudden actions will, at least in the short run, divert capital to other locations. India could be a potential beneficiary because it already fosters a large EdTech ecosystem.

Given our demographics, we have a significant domestic market for education across all levels- primary, secondary, and college. Since digital education will likely become the norm, this space is ripe for newfangled innovations in the days ahead. If online education can bridge the gaps that employers currently perceive in our fresh graduates, unemployability rates shall notably decline. . This will not only contribute directly to our GDP but also indirectly stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.

India has a large technical skill base. Some of these resources can easily be harnessed to develop next-gen education solutions using cutting-edge technologies such as AI, ML, Language Processing, Augmented Reality, etc. To begin with, Indian start-ups can build, test, and scale EdTech platforms and solutions for our domestic market. Over time, these can be refined and repurposed for global markets. Similarly, features built for the global market can be adapted to Indian markets, thus creating a virtual cycle. Such a trend will not only proffer legs to implementing India’s NEP but will also enable us as a society to improve access to education to underprivileged sections of the society. This is critical to sustaining our growth on the path of socio-economic development.

By taking the right decisions now, we can attract capital, talent, and world-famous institutional brands to this critical sector. EdTech in India has the potential to become a powerful engine of growth for our services sector. Done right, I have no doubt that in a few years, India can become a “Vishwaguru” not just in the spiritual sense, but also literally.

PS: As with many other sectors in India, the legal framework that governs education too needs to be made more contemporary and relevant, but that’s for another time.

Image Credits: Photo by Nikhita S on Unsplash

By taking the right decisions now, we can attract capital, talent and world-famous institutional brands to this critical sector. EdTech in India has the potential to become a powerful engine of growth for our services sector. Done right, I have no doubt that in a few years, India can become a “Vishwaguru” not just in the spiritual sense, but also literally.

 

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