Centre for Internet & Society

The Indian Parliamentary Committee's report weighs on several aspects of the Indian IPR system and issues of protection and enforcement. This blog post summarily notes the observations and recommendations of the Committee on the Copyright Act, 1957 which stand to impact access to knowledge. The primary issue dealt with was the claim that copyright exceptions were affecting the publishing industry and authors. The recommendations include narrowing of copyright exceptions, barring digital storage and copying, promotion of libraries, and adopting the Berne Convention as the benchmark on limitations and exceptions.

Last week, the Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce (Committee) tabled its review of the IPR regime in India. The Committee had initiated work in October, 2020, and during the process consulted with law firms, industry associations, and government departments.

The Committee agreed with the contention of the stakeholders that limitations and exceptions contained in section 52(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957 were having a detrimental impact on the publishing industry and authors. In addition, the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) also presented its “corrective measures” to narrow down section 52(1)(i) of the Copyright Act – the copyright exception that had been the bone of contention in the DU photocopying case. They included 1) permitting only the making of print copies of literary works which are available in libraries at government-owned educational institutions, to “avoid any commercial gains from the work of publishers”; 2) quantitatively restricting the reproduction (in cases of books) to ten percent of the total number of pages of the book; and alarmingly also 3) barring the storage of material in the form of scanned or digital formats.

The Committee further expressed its concerns about the conflict between copyright holders and educational institutions caused by section 52(1) of the Act. Section 52(1) is the provision that contains limitations and exceptions. The Committee suggested that the protection of books and works be balanced against public accessibility of works at an affordable rate. In its recommendation, it directed the DPIIT to amend section 52(1) to ‘facilitate’ a fair and equitable ecosystem of literary culture. The measures suggested are:

  • Permitting the copying of works only in government-owned educational institutions and storing it in libraries for easy access to students;
  • Imposing limitations on unrestricted copying of books and literary works and storage of copied works in digital formats;
  • Promotion of establishing of community libraries and upgrading existing libraries in the country for easy access to works of foreign publishers which are exorbitantly priced and difficult to access;
  • National Mission on Library, a venture of Central Government to strengthen the library system, should be implemented at the earliest;
  • DPIIT to undertake a study of the Berne Convention to inform the copyright regime, and the Berne Convention should be referred to in matters of limitations and exceptions in the country.

Separately, the report also makes certain recommendations in respect of registration of copyright societies and treating internet/ digital streaming platforms as broadcasters for purposes of section 31D license.

The recommendations to narrow copyright exceptions and limit digital uses of works are very concerning. It appears that the recommendations shift the financial burden of ensuring access to educational material on public libraries, yet at the same time, restrict the permissible uses of works in libraries.

Since 2020, both government and Parliament have conducted separate consultations on the IPR regime without hearing all stakeholders. In the case of the consultation exercise initiated by DPIIT, details still have not been made public. In the Parliament’s case, it is concerning that key stakeholders and beneficiaries on education and research such as institutions, libraries, teachers, researchers etc. have not been consulted. Neither the substantive part nor the minutes discuss any research or evidence on the issues. As noted by Prof. Scaria, this is hardly a balanced exercise and the report is nowhere close to the level of rigor and depth expected from a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

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