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Copyright Challenges for Print Impaired Persons in India

Posted by Nirmita Narasimhan at Aug 04, 2009 05:20 AM |
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Print impaired persons in India face several hurdles in accessing reading materials- the biggest one being the Indian Copyright Act 1957


  • The Indian Constitution guarantees citizens fundamental rights to dignity, to read, to education, to information and to expression.
  • India has approximately 70 million disabled persons who are unable to participate in the social, cultural and political life of the country because they cannot access materials in the printed form. These include persons with visual disabilities, persons whose physical impairments prevent them from holding or turning pages of a book and persons who have a learning disability like dyslexia. These groups can access reading materials if they are converted into formats which can be accessed by them in an alternate manner using assistive technologies.
  • Recent developments in technologies such as screen reading and OCR technology, electronic tactile devices, evolution of multiple audio, audio-video and electronic formats, DAISY etc which can be adapted for use in a multiplicity of platforms have opened up innumerable possibilities for persons with different abilities to access information independently and participate in society.
  • The process of conversion of a printed book into an alternate accessible format such as large print, audio, Braille and electronic formats involves special effort in terms of obtaining permissions from copyright holders, possessing manpower, infrastructure  and monitory resources, concerted involvement of intermediary agencies undertaking conversion and the presence of an effective  distribution model.

Challenges in India

Today, print impaired persons in India are faced with several problems that hamper their participation in society-

  • Lack of availability of affordable technological solutions in English as well as local languages
  • Lack of availability of printed materials in formats that can be accessed using these technologies
  • Failure on the part of technology and web developers to adhere to principles of universal design which ensure that web sites are accessible to persons with disabilities
  • Lack of accessible or compatible mainstream technologies to work with special technologies
  • Lack of an enabling legal regime.

Disability Awareness around the world

  • The United Nations declared the decade of 1983-1992 as the decade of Persons with Disabilities and the decade of 1993-2002  as the Asian and Pacific decade of persons with disabilities.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force from 2008.
  • International bodies like the World Wide Consortium (W3C) and the Daisy Consortium have come out with standards and guidelines which will make the web and publications on the web universally accessible.
  • The World Blind Union (WBU) has recently proposed a Treaty   for the Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled, (referred to as the “VIP initiative”) which seeks to harmonise limitations and exceptions at a global level so that countries around the world can freely share knowledge in accessible formats for print impaired persons. This Treaty is now being proposed by three Latin American countries and is presently tabled before the WIPO and is under discussion. 

Position in India

  • The Indian Copyright Act 1957 does not make any provision for the conversion and distribution of books in accessible formats for print impaired persons. Hence organisations serving the print impaired have to get permissions from copyright holders to undertake conversions. Further, Indian organisations are not able to borrow accessible materials from libraries in other countries since the absence of such a provision in our fair dealing clause prevents countries from lending books to print impaired persons in India.
  • In the case of books published in India, there are no accessible copies readily available in the market and while many publishers in principle are not averse to giving permission, the unwanted fear of piracy and lack of awareness prevents them from allowing organisations to undertake conversions. Consequently print impaired persons are denied the freedom to choose and read any book which is freely available to the public.
  • In the light of increasing global attention in this matter and in the interests of the large print impaired community in India, we need to have a clear position in our law with regard to converting materials into accessible formats for print challenged persons.  It is important to understand this as not merely a legal issue, but also as a social and economic cause. We need to work at various levels to solve this problem:
  1. We need to work towards legally binding norms both at a national as well as international level. We can achieve this by supporting the proposed treaty for improved access for the visually impaired at the WIPO, and by ensuring that necessary amendments are immediately incorporated into the Copyright Act, which afford flexibilities for conversion into accessible formats for print Impaired person.

  2. Publishers, copyright holders, organisations and print impaired persons should work collaboratively towards  conversion and distribution of published works in accessible formats. Publishers should give digitised copies of books in an accessible format to recognised organisations serving the print Impaired and in return these organisations should set up a distribution mechanism which will ensure that these accessible books get circulated only within the print impaired community and do not find their way into the mainstream market.

  3. Publishers should explore the large market in India for selling books in electronic, audio and other accessible formats along with the print copy. These copies should be available in the market at the same time and at the same price that the print copy becomes available. In the case of electronic copies, publishers may also consider selling the books at a price which is lesser than the price of the print version since this will not involve cost of paper publication.

  4. Publishers should adopt a standard format for creating digital masters of their publications so that all distribution formats including hard copy print, braille, talking book and digital publications can be derived out of it without wastage of resources on conversions and reproduction of books in accessible formats.

  5. The government should frame incentive schemes for publishers and other persons developing technologies to encourage them to create accessible versions of their content and technologies.

  6. We need to work towards ensuring at least the minimum basic study and reference materials which are required for children with print disabilities to complete their school and college level education in all subjects and languages.

  7. We need to encourage peer to peer models amongst disabled persons and organisations for sharing and generating more accessible content.

  8. We need to work towards establishing public libraries and repositories of accessible content with a healthy system of exchange amongst them.

  9. Work towards generating more Indian language content and developing technologies such as text to speech synthesisers which support regional Indian language content.

  10. We need to work towards facilitating cross-border exchange of books so that persons in India get exposure to foreign authors and also ensure that persons abroad are able to read Indian literature. Libraries in India should be able to freely exchange books with libraries in other countries.

  11. We need to spread awareness about the importance of building in accessibility right at the start so that not much time, effort and money is wasted at a later stage in converting materials into accessible formats.

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