Open Letter to PM Modi on Intellectual Property Rights issues on His Visit to the United States of America in September, 2015
This is an open letter by CIS to the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi in light of his impending visit to the USA. This letter asks the Prime Minister to urge the USA to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty; and asks that India not be a party to TPP negotiations, in light of recent reports on a study encouraging India to join the TPP.
Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi
Hon’ble Prime Minister of India
152, South Block, Raisina Hill
22 September, 2015
We write on behalf of the Centre for Internet and Society, India , a Bangalore and New Delhi based not-for-profit organization engaging in research on among others, accessibility for persons with disabilities, intellectual property rights, openness and access to knowledge. Over the past fifteen months, we have welcomed and support certain initiatives of our government as being in line with some of our research interests, specifically, the "Make in India" and "Digital India" initiatives, and your vision of a digitally empowered India, as we have noted in an earlier open letter to you. 
This letter is in light of your visit to the United States of America (“USA”) this month, to articulate a two-fold request: first, that during the course of your visit you request the government of the USA to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty for visually impaired persons (“Marrakesh Treaty”);  and second, that the Indian government not enter into any negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (“the TPP”).
On the Marrakesh Treaty
According to figures by the World Blind Union, approximately 90% of all published material is not accessible to blind or print disabled people.  The severity of the ‘book famine’ experienced by the world’s estimated 300 million blind or otherwise print or visually disabled people (of which an estimated 63 million are in India) was highlighted by India in its Closing Statement at the Diplomatic Conference convened to conclude the Marrakesh Treaty.  India has historically been a strong advocate of the spirit of the Marrakesh Treaty, becoming the first country to ratify it in June, 2014.  Amendments in 2012 to India’s copyright law predated the signature to the Marrakesh Treaty. These amendments created disability and works neutral exceptions to our copyright law, well beyond the mandate of the Marrakesh Treaty.
The true realization of the promise of the Marrakesh Treaty however will remain a distant dream until the treaty comes into effect (three months) after 20 Member States have ratified it or acceded to it.  According to information available from the World Intellectual Property Organization , this number is currently only 9, and the USA is not one of the countries to have done so. The USA is home  to some of the largest publishers of both academic and other/leisure material including Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, John Wiley & Sons, the RELX Group, McGraw-Hill Education, Scholastic and Cengage Learning to name a few. It accounts for a large volume of the world’s book and other print material export. The active participation of the USA through the ratification of the Marrakesh treaty is critical if the treaty is to be truly effective.
During your visit, we urge you request the government of the United States of America to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty at the earliest. This will bring us one important step closer to eradicating the book famine.
On the TPP
We are concerned after reports  of a recent study authored by C Fred Bergsten that encourages India to join the TPP. On this front, we are in complete agreement with the reported statement of the Hon’ble Ambassador Shri Arun K. Singh, where he disagrees with some of the findings and analysis of this recent report. 
The TPP has come into severe criticism  over the years  from a vast multitude  of sources  (including a group of 30 law professors in 2012)  across the various countries that are a party to the negotiations. Among others and most relevant to us as an organization is the criticism around the secrecy of negotiations  as well as the content of the chapter on intellectual property in the TPP. It is our belief that eventually, India stands to lose as a result of the TPP  with its possible adverse impact on our economy. 
The rigid intellectual property protections (including criminal penalties for unintentional copying)  sought to be enforced through the TPP would benefit only US pharmaceutical and entertainment industries.  These provisions (among others) mandate the inclusion of TRIPS plus provisions in national laws, envisage possible extensions in term of protection on patents, restrict copyright exceptions and limitations, extend copyright protection terms and impose a higher liability on intermediaries; all of which would be disastrous for an emerging economy such as India’s, which is a heavy user of intellectual property and not a heavy producer of the same.
Historically, India has been a supporter of a transparent, multilateral decision making process, a commitment to which was also reiterated recently by the Hon’ble Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman. India has also raised many of its concerns (on the secrecy of the negotiations as well as substantive provisions themselves) around the TPP and its close cousin, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (“ACTA”) in 2011  and 2012  at the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) TRIPS Council and on the ACTA in 2010, also at the WTO Trips Council. 
In light of the above, we strongly urge the Indian government to not engage in negotiations on the TPP. At a minimum, we would request that any engagement in TPP negotiations be preceded by national consultations on the same, soliciting input from various stakeholders with diverging interests, including academia, civil society, industry associations, large Indian corporations, small and medium enterprises and multi- national corporations, rights holders associations and other interest groups.
We thank you for the opportunity to present these views to you. We do hope that you will consider these suggestions favourably, in the interests of India’s economic and social development. We welcome any opportunity to assist you with any queries you may have with regard to these submissions.
(For the Centre for Internet and Society, India)
Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director
Nehaa Chaudhari, Programme Officer
- Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister for Human Resource Development, Government of India.
- Prof. (Dr.) Ram Shankar Katheria, Minister of State for Human Resource Development (Higher Education), Government of India.
- Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
- Shri Vinay Sheel Oberoi, Secretary (Department of Higher Education), Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India, Government of India.
- Shri Amitabh Kant, Secretary (Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
(Edit - 25 September, 2015) - The following people have reached out to us in support of this letter and have expressed a desire to have their signatures placed on record as support. We wish to acknowledge the same.
- Prof. Dinesh Abrol - Convenor, National Working Group on Patent Laws and WTO
- Dr. B. Ekbal - President, Democratic Alliance for Knowledge Freedom, Kerala
- T.C. James - President, NIPO
- Dr. Suman Sahai - Chairperson, Gene Campaign
- Dr. Biswajit Dhar - Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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