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Rights Issue

Whose copy is it?

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A long-standing relic of our colonial past is getting a good dusting down. Last month, the government introduced the Copyright Amendment Bill 2010 in the Rajya Sabha, and it proposes some fundamental changes to the law governing copyright and intellectual property rights issues in this country. TOI-Crest examines some of its implications on the creative community and the digital citizen...

The Indian Copyright Act 1957 has seen a few amendments in the past - in the '80s and '90s - but it is widely acknowledged that it is far outdated and does not reflect the reality of a rapidly evolving and interconnected global knowledge economy. Our movie and music industries as well as the digital and internet technology realm are in for an overhaul if the proposed changes are passed by Parliament. The Bill has been driven by two main objectives: to incentivise innovation and creativity by giving artistes greater rights over their own works, and to bring Indian laws up-todate - and at par with global standards - by factoring in the digital and internet technology sectors.

So, how is it going to help foster creativity and secure the rights of artistes in the movie and music industries? Cut through the jargon and this is what reveals itself: The Bill proposes to make music composers and lyricists equal claimants to the copyright of the works they produce for a movie. So far, they got paid a one-off professional fee in return for signing out their rights and rarely got continuing royalties from the producers. So while record companies and producers made a killing through the sales of CDs, cassettes, public performances and ringtones, those who created the song were shortchanged.

In a changed scenario, they should ideally receive compensation every time their creation is commercially exploited outside the framework of the film. But though the proposals are well-intentioned, like with many laws in India, the details are all fuzzy. "It's not very well thought-out. Just what percentages are the various actors entitled to, what the profitsharing mechanisms will be, have not been worked out. This is a problem given the asymmetrical power structure in the industry, " says Shamnad Basheer, a lawyer specialising in Indian and international IP laws.

As far as movies go, the scene is even less clear. The Bill proposes to make the principal director and producer joint first owners of copyright. Presently, this is the privilege of the producer, with the director often signing off his rights for a lumpsum professional fee. This means what the producer chooses to do with the movie - remake it, dub it, sell it overseas, etc - the director has no say in the matter, unless he has signed a contract with the producer retaining some rights. Directors in India have for long fought for the right to retain copyright over their works, just as authors of literary works do, but to little avail. Now, they are close to winning their case, but just how this arrangement will work out in practice is deliciously vague. Here again, there is no plan in place to work out revenue-sharing, nor is there clarity about what 'equal rights' actually translates to.

And then, there are some proposals concerning individual users of specialised software that are clearly problematic. Take for instance the implications of the Bill for the disabled. While it allows for books to be converted to special formats such as Braille, it does not allow individuals to digitise (scan books into electronic format) and read them with the aid of screen reading software, which is increasingly the preferred mode of access for the visually-challenged and those with learning disabilities. Only organisations with special licences can do so, further disadvantaging the disadvantaged. Both the BJP and the Left have promised to block the Bill if this anomaly were not rectified.

To be sure, the Bill is not going to have an easy passage through Parliament as interest groups and individual petitioners are gearing up to stall it unless their concerns are addressed. While there is no doubt that there are issues that need to be revisited and thought through more logically, it would be a pity if the Bill were to be left to wallow in a prolonged limbo. A country that is gunning for a pre-eminent position in the marketplace of ideas and innovation can hardly afford to abide by rules informed by the days of the Raj.

SUCH A SONG AND DANCE


WHO GAINS?
Movie directors, lyricists, composers, singers, choreographers: They will have independent rights over their creative work and be entitled to receive royalties.

WHO'S UPSET?

Film and music producers: Say Indian movie industry is 'unique', film music is part of the package, and sharing copyright with artists is not viable.

COPY SPATS


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