India Overhauls Copyright Law

6 June 2012

The Indian Parliament has approved a landmark new bill that will bring major changes to the country's current copyright law, officials announced late last month. The legislation is expected to have major implications for areas ranging from the relationship between authors and producers in the music sector to limitations and exceptions for people with disabilities.

The Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2012, sponsored by Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal, also seeks to bring Indian copyright regulations up to date with international norms, such the World Intellectual Property Organization's  (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and its Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

The Lok Sabha - India's lower house of Parliament - unanimously passed the legislation on 22 May, after the Rajya Sabha - India's upper house of Parliament - approved the measure a few days prior. The legislation will next require presidential approval before it can enter into force.

‘Artistes' can now reap benefits of their work

The amendment's potential ramifications for the music and movie industry have been the center of attention since the parliamentary vote. The bill effectively makes authors, lyricists, composers, and other ‘artistes' owners of the copyright of their work in films, which had previously been assigned to film producers. It also requires radio and TV broadcasters to pay royalties to the owners of the copyright every time a work is broadcast.

"This new law will secure the royalties of writers, composers, musicians, which they had to legally surrender so far," lyricist and Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Javed Akhtar commented.

"Bollywood was not following any rule at all... [It] was just a usual thing that the entire copyrights used to rest with the producers, the producers then could sell it to the music companies and then whomsoever they wanted to do it," Vinod Lamba, President of the Film Federation of India, said.

"Now the new law changes the entire scene," Lamba continued.

Developments on exceptions, digital environment

The new Indian copyright regime also encompasses more specific exceptions and limitations for persons with disabilities, covering all copyrighted material in "accessible format" - such as Braille - as well as other formats, if the latter are being used by non-profits working with the disabled.

"India now has amongst the most progressive exception for persons with disabilities, alongside countries like Chile," Pranesh Prakash, from the Centre for Internet and Society - an Indian civil society group - commented.

An international instrument for the print disabled has been a recurring topic of discussion at WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), though progress has been slow as of late. The next SCCR meeting  is scheduled for July.

The new Indian bill also allows students to use copyrighted material for research purposes and extends fair dealing rights to all works, with the exception of software. In addition, compulsory licensing now applies to foreign works as well, in case they are published elsewhere but not in India.

On the enforcement front, the amendment introduces a fine and a maximum of two years' imprisonment for piracy offenses. It will also provide some protection to Internet providers in case of "transient or incidental storage of a work or performance for the purpose of providing electronic links, access, or integration," provided that the person responsible recognises, or has "reasonable grounds" for believing, that an infringing copy is being stored.

"We are in the midst of new era, which I call digital era," Sibal said after the Rajya Sabha vote. "As technology develops, we need to understand complexities and ensure that key stakeholders' rights are protected and can take the benefit of the digital era."

ICTSD reporting; "Copyright amendment act in bollywood boon for some bane for others," BLOOMBERG UTV, 28 May 2012; "Bollywood cheers as Lok Sabha passes copyright bill," DNA, 23 May 2012; "House green light to Copyright Bill," THE TIMES OF INDIA, 23 May 2012; "Rajya Sabha nod for Copyright Amendment Bill," THE TIMES OF INDIA, 18 May 2012; "Rajya Sabha approves copyright amendment bill," IANS, 17 May 2012.

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