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Copyright bill restricts Net access

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 02, 2011 10:21 AM
Law to curb piracy may fetter creativity

The  government introduced the copyright amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha on April 19. The bill gives independent rights to authors, film directors and musicians and makes it difficult for Internet users to access works protected by copyright.

G R Raghavender, registrar of copyrights, said the amendments are necessary as the Copyright Act of 1957 gives minimum protection to writers and artists against commercial exploitation of their works through the Internet.

Under lock without key

But the bill lacks clarity on some aspects. For instance, it introduces technological protection measures (tpms)—locks that restrict access to copyrighted material and help the copyright holder decide how his or her work should be used.

The bill allows users to bypass the lock if it is for a purpose not prohibited by the law, such as research. But for that the user should have the means to unlock the tpm.  The bill assumes the users would know how to bypass the lock but that need not be the case, said Pranesh Prakash, of the non-profit Centre for Internet and Society.

The Spanish law, for instance, requires copyright holders to help legitimate users access their work.

Shamnad Basheer, who teaches intellectual property law at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata, said tpm  is an added restriction and not required. “India is not obligated to import tpms into its copyright law as it is not a member of the World International Property Organization internet treaties (the amended bill conforms to these treaties). Raghavender said tpms are a must for curbing piracy.

The bill evoked mixed reactions in the film and music industry. Abhishek Chaubey, director of the recently released film Ishqiya, said the bill would put creative people in a stronger position. But Hiren Gada who runs the production house, Shemaroo Entertain-ment, is against directors getting copyrights. “It is against the fundamental principle of the film business; directors don’t share losses with producers if a film flops,” he pointed out. Dhruv Jagasia, manager of the music band Indian Ocean, said he was not sure if the bill would be implemented effectively as in the US where “cheques arrive by mail if one’s track is played on the radio”.

Print impaired get short shrift

Non-profits working for the physically challenged said the bill does not address certain handicaps. Rahul Cherian of, an online platform for print impaired, said the bill permits conversion of printed material only to special formats like Braille and sign language, not mainstream formats like audio tapes and text with large font size. “There are about 70 million print disabled persons in India. Those affected by cerebral palsy, dyslexia and visually impaired persons who do not know Braille, would need to access material in mainstream formats. The bill does not benefit them,” said Cherian. He added the bill allows only organizations working for disabled to seek licence to publish works in mainstream formats. Educational institutions, self-help groups and physically challenged individuals can’t obtain the licence.

While copyright amendment bill seeks to protect intellectual property, there are people who think it fetters creativity. “Copyright is a fairly recent phenomenon and should not be considered natural. Were that the case, the entire cultural history of humanity would not have occurred,” said Shuddhabrata Sen of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies. Swaraj Paul Barooah, researcher at the Nalsar university of law in Hyderabad, said, “In a developing country like India the emphasis should be on adapting and improvising on the works in the public domain.”

Given the circumstances, should the copyright on Mahatma Gandhi’s works be renewed. The copyright for his writings expired in 2009. Former governor of West Bengal and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi said there was nothing to lament. “The expiration of the copyright term should be the beginning of responsible access and use. It would be important in the computer age to use his manuscripts with great responsibility because no one can sue the user under the copyright law,” he said.

The bill has been referred to the standing committee of the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development for vetting.

Read the original in Down to Earth

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