The copyright wars

As India emerges as one of the biggest world publishing markets, intellectual property rights become a more contentious issue with authors, artists and other creative persons asserting their rights and the government attempting to bring the industry practices in tune with the international treaties in a more globalised environment.

Object of the Amendment

The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010, likely to be introduced in the Budget Session, is being brought in “to remove operational difficulties and also to address certain newer issues that have emerged in the context of digital technologies and the Internet” in view of the two World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Internet Treaties. Accordingly, the Amendment aims to achieve it by expanding the definition of “copyright” and introducing a system of statutory licensing to protect the owners of literary or musical works and including a system of compulsory licensing of copyrighted works for the benefit of the disabled, with the prior approval of the Copyright Board. It also aims at protecting performer’s rights, including, allowing them to make sound or visual recordings of their performances and reproduce them in any medium, issue copies to the public or sell or rent a copy of the recording.


The Copyright Act, 1957 defines the rights of authors of creative works such as books, music, films and other works of art, and computer software, who are the original owners of copyright in these works and have a ‘bundle of rights’ i.e. to distribute, perform, translate and adapt the work and these rights can also be assigned to others. The Act provides for copyright societies, which issue licences for copyrighted works and collect royalties on behalf of rights holders. Copyright in literary, artistic and musical works lies with the author and his/her heirs till 60 years after his death. Copyright in photos, films and sound recordings persist for 60 years after the work is made. It prescribes penalties for copyright infringement.

Highlights of Bill

Copyright in a film currently rests with the producer for 60 years. But the Bill extends it to a director as well, but for 70 years. In some cases, this amendment also applies to films produced before the Bill. The Bill makes special provisions for those whose work is used in films or sound recordings (e.g. lyricists or composers). Rights to royalties from such works, when used in media other than films or sound recordings, shall rest with the creator of the work and can only be assigned to heirs, or copyright societies which act in their interests.

The controversy

But one of the most controversial provisions in the Bill from the point of view of publishing industry is clause 2(m), according to which a copy of a work published in any country outside India with the permission of the author and imported from that country into India shall not be deemed to be an infringing copy. It implies that book published in a foreign country can be imported impacting the local publishing industry, which is in a take off stage. The publishing industry claims that it can also affect the low-priced editions of textbooks published in the UK and the US thereby depriving Indian students of cheaper textbooks published abroad.

Expert’s View

Intellectual Property Rights Lawyer Sumathi Chandrshekaran said: “This amendment (the proviso to clause 2(m)), if cleared, is likely to change the book publishing industry. For a consumer, it may mean lower pricing and access to texts that may otherwise have not been available. For the publishers, it may involve moving away from English-language publishing to looking at texts in other Indian languages, where the import clause will not affect business. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.”


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