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Copyright Amendments – Empowering the Print Disabled

Posted by Rahul Cherian at May 29, 2012 04:25 AM |
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The much anticipated Copyright Amendment Bill, 2012 was passed with a few changes in the Rajya Sabha on 17th May 2012 after a very spirited debate and passed by the Lok Sabha on the 22nd May 2012 with unanimous consensus.

The Bill now requires presidential assent to become a law. The Bill discusses various key aspects which have not been addressed in the present copyright regime due to reasons such as changing international standards, technological and scientific advancements. This blog post is limited to the new Section 52(1)(zb) which creates a new copyright exception for the benefit of persons with print disabilities, including persons with visual impairment and dyslexia.

Prior to the inclusive of Section 52(1)(zb) that the owner of copyright in a work had the exclusive right to adapt, make copies, communicate to the public etc. the work. Therefore, any conversion of a book into accessible formats such as Braille, Daisy, audio books, etc., for the benefit of persons with print disabilities could be undertaken only by the owner of copyright or with the permission of the owner of copyright. More often than not, owners of copyright are unwilling or disinterested to either undertake the conversion and sale of such accessible format copies or permit such conversion, for reasons varying from lack of profitability to limited target audience.

The Copyright Amendment Bill, 2012 does away with the necessity to seek the consent of the publishers for converting their books into accessible formats. To this extent, the Bill provides that it would not be an infringement of copyright for any person or any organization working for the benefit of the persons with disabilities and on a non-profit basis to create accessible format copies or distribute them to persons with disabilities who cannot enjoy the work in their normal formats. This provision is very wide and inclusive in its scope and also has some protection built in against unauthorized use by non-beneficiaries of the exception. For instance, the books so provided in accessible formats shall be for private or personal use, education or research only. Moreover, the persons or organizations providing such services have the obligation to ensure that such converted formats do not enter the mainstream business channels. While the new exception permits the recovery of the expenses incurred in converting the books, they do not permit the making of any profit under the exception. However, under a new Section 31 B any person working for the benefit of the persons with disabilities on a profit basis or for business can undertake conversion and distribution after obtaining a license from the Copyright Board in accordance with the procedure laid down in that section.

It is to be noted that the original wording of the amendment as proposed by the Copyright Office in 2006 was extremely limited in that it allowed conversion only into “specialized formats designed for persons with disabilities” and not into "all formats" as is the case now. The problem with "specialized formats" is that many persons with print disabilities, including those with dyslexia, person who lost their eyesight at a later age etc. cannot use specialized formats such as Braille and use mainstream formats such as .pdf or audio. By limiting conversion into “specialized formats” such as Braille, a large number of potential beneficiaries would have been excluded from the amendment. In order the attempt to change the wording of the proposed amendment to reflect technological developments and also benefit a larger number of persons with disabilities, the nationwide Right to Read Campaign was launched by Inclusive Planet, the Centre for Internet and Society, the Daisy Forum of India. As a result of sustained campaigning and high level advocacy during which over 70 Members of Parliament were met, we were invited to present evidence before the Parliamentary Standing Committee which fully endorsed our concerns. The Copyright Office then changed the wording from the 2006 wording to the current wording. It still took about a year and half for the amendments to be passed by both Houses of Parliament.

In conclusion, the Copyright Amendment Bill will enable persons with disabilities to be able to exercise their right to knowledge on an equal basis with others. It also shows that a small group of committed disability activists with the support of a handful of lawyers and the tool of high level advocacy can bring about effective change.

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