New Indian copyright law could help disabled, cripple remixes, clamp DRM

GOA, India

India is planning to significantly amend its Copyright Act of 1957, to include among other things the concept of Digital Rights Management, a move which could well restrict access to knowledge. Lawyers-with-a-difference are closely monitoring what's happening on this front.
India is planning to significantly amend its Copyright Act of 1957, to include among other things the concept of Digital Rights Management, a move which campaigners believe will restrict access to knowledge.

Digital Rights Management -- or DRM -- refers to technologies used by publishers to control access to digital data like software, music, movies, apart from hardware.

Much-debated abroad, DRM advocates say DRM technologies are necessary to allow rights holders to exercise their rights, prevent revenue loss due to illegal duplication of their copyrighted works, and enable more effective market segmentation.

DRM critics argue that the phrase "digital rights management" is a misnomer and the term digital restrictions management is more accurate, since the mechanisms allow the enforcement of any restrictions desired by the publishers, regardless of whether those restrictions actually correspond to the publisher's legal rights.

Critics also say that transferring control of the use of media from consumers to a consolidated media industry will lead to loss of existing user rights and stifle innovation in software and cultural productions.

India's Copyright Office has earned praise for being transparent about the amendment process. It has publicly displaying the proposed amendments via its www.copyright.gov.in website, and has sought suggestions.

"It is important to note that India is under no legal obligation to introduce some of the proposed amendments including DRM," said lawyers of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, which campaigns for "an alternative practice of law" that responds to social and economic injustice.

They added: "It is important for the government to recognize and rely on flexibilities of the Berne Convention and the TRIPs agreement, which enable access to knowledge and information, by ensuring easy access to copyrighted materials in respect of educational, private or general use, and via

any media or form."

Liang, a prominent Bangalore-based lawyer and alumni of the prestigious National Law School of India, noted that the other proposed changes apart from DRM included amendments on version recordings, and new provisions to enable access for people with visual disability.

Changes to the law also proposed changes to the scope of media coverage of other media reports, as well as public events like lectures.

Lawrence Liang together with other lawyers-researchers Nirmita Narasimhan and Achal Prabhala said there were "other provisions" which are "problematic in their current form and have not been addressed".

Among these, they said were restrictions on parallel importation of cultural and knowledge goods; and limited scope of works under compulsory licensing for translation, among other wide reasons (Indian works versus foreign works).

It also pointed to the extended copyright term of works which in most cases exceeds the minimum specified in the Berne and TRIPs arrangements; unreasonable limitations on fair dealing in education; the limited scope of work considered to be from or of the government for the purposes of exception and

access; and the lack of a system to recognise non-written licenses.

"The present amendment seeks to promote greater access to knowledge and information for persons with any sensory disabilities. This is a welcome move, especially if enacted with a thorough review of the details of the need, and the enabling provision," Liang told this blogger.

He argued that another very important section is the one that enables the making of versions recordings in India.

"This provision has extensively enhanced the Indian music landscape. It has led to a transformation in the distribution and creation of cultural goods," Liang argued.

For instance, in the early 1980s, as audio cassettes proliferated, a number of small companies were able to use Section 52(1)(j) to produce and sell vast numbers of so-called version recordings in under-served languages and genres.

It is also the section that has resulted in the remix culture that India have witnessed in the past few years. But, the proposed change in the law could "significantly increases the costs and administrative burdens of making a version record", Liang argued.

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