Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2011: Copyright amendment bill

  • The Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2010, approved by the Union Cabinet on December 24, 2009, and introduced in the Rajya Sabha on April 19, 2010, sparked great controversy for a number of reasons.

  • First, in an unusual departure from the British legal tradition, inspired by French and German law, the Bill proposes guaranteed royalties for lyricists/composers for the commercial exploitation of their songs. Anticipating that these new rights will force producers to share 50 per cent of royalties with lyricists and composers, these proposals were simultaneously welcomed by the former and condemned by the film industry.

  • Second, the Bill introduces the parallel importation of books in accordance with Article 6 of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement a provision intended to provide readers in developing countries with books at cheaper prices but which, ironically, in India has been heralded by publishers as the death of books or at least the death of Indian publishing.

  • The Bill also seeks to modernise copyright law in view of the challenges raised by the new digital environment and the internet which has been described by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) as the world's biggest copy machine. While the older technologies of photocopying and taping were expensive, time-consuming and produced copies of lower quality than the original, the internet enables one to make instantaneously unlimited copies of the same quality. Copyright law, therefore, has to rise to the challenge of how to protect the rights of authors of works published on the internet.

  • According to the Bill, the answer lies in the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) which address the challenge posed to the protection of copyright arising from dissemination of works over the internet. Curiously, even though India is not a signatory to either of these treaties which entered into force in 2002 and also refused WIPO's call to sign the treaties in July 2008, the Bill seeks to conform Indian law to these Internet Treaties.

  • The first legal principle enshrined in the WCT and the WPPT is that existing rights will continue to apply in the digital environment. In other words, copyright holders will continue to be protected by copyright when their works are published on the internet. This principle is implicit in section 14 of the existing Copyright Act while not expressly stated.

  • The second legal principle of the WCT and WPPT is the anti-circumvention provisions which are intended to ensure that copyright holders can effectively use technology to protect their rights and to license their works online by, for example, using encryption technology, access control devices and copy control devices to protect their copyrighted works from cyber criminals hacking into passwords and illegally reproducing their works.

  • The main objective of the proposed section 65A in the bill is to enable authors of copyrighted works to use encryption techniques in order to protect their copyrighted works against unauthorised dissemination on the internet. However, Indian law, in any case, severely restricts the use of encryption technology by providing that DoT approval is required for use of encryption levels higher than the outdated 40-key bit length. Today, 128 − 256-key bit length is required to protect communications from interception.

  • In sum, the Copyright Amendment Bill 2010 bravely takes socially progressive steps intended to ensure that lyricists and composers get a fair share of royalties and that Indians will have access to recent editions of foreign works at reasonable prices.

  • However, in order to modernise Indian copyright law, the Bill has to go beyond only copying the provisions of the WCT and WPPT and should incorporate the provisions necessary to ensure that authors have the access to encryption and other technological means to protect their works published on the internet from hacking and can enforce those rights in the courts.

Courtesy: The Hindu and Times of India