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Print Impairment and Copyrights

by Radha Rao last modified Apr 02, 2011 02:49 PM
An article by Swaraj Paul Barooah - SPICY IP (Google groups)

There have recently been discussions by the CIS (The Center for Internet and Society) over some important issues relating to the intercourse of copyright protection and accessibility of content. Bringing up important points about the lack of access that certain categories of people have to printed material, they seek to approach the government for appropriate amendments to the present copyright laws. They have broadly defined 'print impaired’ people as those who cannot access standard printed material due not only visual impairment which composes the largest part of this group, but also other reasons such as dyslexia, paralysis, and other learning and physically challenged people. (In connection to this, readers may recall the post by Sumathi on the WIPO Treaty for the Blind being kept on hold earlier this year)

According to the WHO, there are about 314 million visually impaired people in the world, and about 70 million of these are in India (and one should keep in mind that these are just the documented statistics). Totally, there are about 400 million people in the world who suffer from some sort of print impairment. The primary problem that these people are facing is the lack of material which is suitable for their consumption. According to CIS, only 0.5% of the books in India are available in one or more alternative formats. The exclusion of easy availability of such material is effectively leading to a 3 stage process of marginalization of these people from society due to the artificial dependencies created, powerlessness as a result of this and these two together are resulting in the limiting of their capability expansion which could’ve occurred in the presence of the accessible material. 

Currently, though the technology exists to transpose books into alternative formats such as braille or audio-books, which provide easier access for the print impaired, copyright laws are proving a hindrance to publishers, as this would technically constitute an infringement. The process to seek approval is a long and tedious one, which creates unnecessary barriers to access to information. As Rahul Cherian of CIS points out, there are also no national policies or action plans to ensure that these people have methods of accessing publications. He also points out in his article here that while there is no specific exception mentioned in the Copyright Act,

"Indian courts have routinely upheld the rights of persons with disability and the Supreme Court has specifically recognized that the “right to life” as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution includes right to dignity including basic necessities such as reading and writing[1] The right to education has also been recognised as a fundamental right. For print impaired persons to enjoy their fundamental rights, it is essential that they have access to material, including but not limited to educational material, in accessible formats. In this context it can be argued that the fundamental rights of Print Impaired Persons are being infringed because the Copyright Act, 1957, does not provide exceptions and limitations for the benefit of Print Impaired Persons."

Further more, India has already signed and ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities wherein ensuring accessibility is one of the principle guiding points. The Bombay HC, in Ranjit Kumar Rajak Vs State Bank of India, has also read in provisions from this convention, stating it as law. You can see a further analysis of the legal framework in Rahul Cherian's article here.

A welcome initiative that CIS has taken in this regard is the Right to Read Campaign. Together with their endeavor of raising awareness of this pressing issue of lack of accessibility of material, they are also preparing a white paper giving suggestions and advice to the government as to what kind of changes should be made to the Copyright Act. As mentioned in a previous post, the required changes have been considered for the Amendment Act, but this is just hearsay and there is no specific information available as to the current proceedings of this. The campaign also is pushing for the Indian government to support the World Blind Union which is promoting the Treaty for the Blind at the WIPO.

Another great initiative which they have taken is in the form of an online platform which they have just launched. Seeking to be part of the solution as well, the site aims to provide a platform where print impaired people can upload and share their collections with other print impaired people, subject to the end user terms. The idea behind this is that since there is so much difficulty in making alternative materials available, the ones that have been made available should be made more easily available for sharing purposes. Earlier branded as , the site is now . In the short time period that this site has been up, they have already had visitors from 54 different countries and uploads have been made in 34 different languages. In fact, there have also been requests from other countries requesting if the service could be launched in a local language. 

This effort by CIS is indeed applauded by our Spicy IP team. You can also support this cause on their campaign site at

Link to the article in SPICY IP

Filed under:
ASPI-CIS Partnership


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