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More positives than negatives

india Updated: Sep 03, 2011 02:40 IST

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Changes to our copyright law realign it with legislation available in the developed world by giving content creators their due. But there is grumbling among the distributors of Indian creativity that amendments to a law enacted half a century ago could upend the entertainment industry. The Copyright Amen-dment Bill, which has been vetted by a standing committee after being tabled in the Rajya Sabha in April 2010, tries to cover much ground in our treatment of intellectual property but falls short of what the World Intellectual Property Organisation would have us enact. The law we are drafting is aligned with the Berne Convention for the protection of literary and artistic works, to which India is a signatory. We have, however, chosen not sign up for tighter copyright protection deriving from trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS).

The resistance to giving authors, lyricists, singers and directors a share of the royalties is based on the way the Indian entertainment industry is organised and which introduces an localised set of issues. Films form the biggest chunk of entertainment Indians consume. Playback singing is a preserve of Bolly-wood and all its regional cousins, and so far the film and music industries have got along famously by paying songwriters and singers an upfront fee in lieu of their rights. The draft law bans the transfer of these rights. Now royalties will have to be multi-party contracts instead of the current practice of the music company paying the producer of the film. And it doesn't end there. The director of every film will henceforth be a joint owner of the copyright, thereby bumping up the number of people that each contract will have to accommodate.

But it is this very structure of entertainment distribution that squeezes out independent deals between artists and music companies. In fact, the existing copyright regime works in favour of the film industry. Technology is upsetting all the rules of mass media and amendments to our copyright law are in tune with the opportunities the digital world provides. However, the Bill discriminates among lines of creativity and their distribution. Song and story writers get their due but not all the other authors of artistic work. Likewise, restricting statutory licensing to radio is unfair to TV. These must be fixed before the law is enacted. Also, by perpetuating the integrity of the original work, there is a risk of lessening its appeal to later generations. A Tagore song set to music set in 1920 is unlikely to strike the right chords with an audience in 2020. Finally, the Bill does not address government-funded works: taxpayers must be free to use stuff they paid for.