Centre for Internet & Society
YouTube is the answer to what has changed in India

Lawrence Liang says one of the biggest problems in the digital landscape is opacity. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Alternative Law Forum’s Lawrence Liang on relaunching Creative Commons, and how it changes the legal landscape of copyright issues.

YouTube is the answer to what has changed in India

Lawrence Liang says one of the biggest problems in the digital landscape is opacity. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

The article by Moulishree Srivastava was published in Livemint on November 20, 2013. Lawrence Liang was quoted.

Creative Commons (CC), a non-profit organization headquartered in Mountain View, California, US, which enables Internet users to share and use the creativity and knowledge of others, on Tuesday relaunched its India chapter after six years. CC provides free copyright licences that give creators a way to share their creative work, on conditions of their choice.

In India, for instance, Pratham Books, a not-for-profit publisher, licenses its content under a CC licence that allows others to use the content (on certain conditions). And the National Council of Educational Research and Training has created a portal where digital versions of its course material have been uploaded under a CC licence.

In an interview, Lawrence Liang , co-founder of Alternative Law Forum and chairman of the board at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, which is one of the CC affiliates in India, spoke about the re-launch, what went wrong the last time, what it means for the country and how it changes the legal landscape of copyright issues. Edited excerpts:

People all over the world are already using CC licences. What does this relaunch mean for India?

There are two things. One is the legal component. The licences have been tailor-made for Indian law. Tomorrow, if someone were to use CC licence and there were violations and it came up in court, this (the CC licence) would be in compliance with the Indian Copyright Act. The other is, we have a very large number of young people who are entering the space of making creative works. The CC means for them to be aware that there are options they have apart from traditional copyright licensing.

How does it impact the legal landscape of copyright issues?

In the US, you have something called derivative rights, which is conversion of one medium into another medium. In India, you don’t have that idea; you have the right of adaptation, which is a much more narrowly defined idea. It has the specific definition of what the adaptation is. There is the right to adaptation of a work from, say, literary into dramatic, but it doesn’t mean conversion of a work into any form.

The second is in terms of presumption of how you gain ownership over copyright, which is slightly different in India than it is in the US.

In India—section 17 (of the Constitution) lays out different classes of work—there are different presumptions of who the owner of copyright is, which becomes very important. For example, if a film-maker wants to license his work, now it has to be clear that he is the owner of the copyright in the first place, because the presumption in India would be that the producer is the owner of the work, whereas in Europe the producer is the first owner of the work. These are some of the small differences that CC attempts to clarify.

What went wrong the last time?

When it was first launched (in India) in 2007, perhaps there wasn’t the momentum. Last time CC was launched as a licence in India, but not as a community, which was the key issue. Second, it was institutionally housed in IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay and it needed being pluralized. You can’t depend on CC being housed in one single institution. It should be in as many institutions as possible, which is what has happened this time. The crucial thing here is that we will be developing a community. A lot more people know about CC now than they did back in 2007.

Why do you think it will succeed?

One is the overall awareness about open source and alternatives. The other one, which is more crucial, is, when CC was launched in the US, it was in response to a very clear crisis. The crisis was that a large number of users were being prevented from using existing works. Lawrence Lessig (one of the co-founders of CC) felt that there was a need to create a legal alternative. There was already, in a way, a certain kind of environment which allowed CC to automatically speak to a number of people’s concerns. In India, we didn’t have that. Copyright was anyway not being enforced. That’s happening now. So once people could use YouTube, could create remixes, then they suddenly realized that they have used a film song and other copyrighted content. Then they suddenly realize a need of legal content as alternative. YouTube is the answer to what has changed.

What does it mean for the media?

It depends on whether you are looking at it from the perspective of a media producer or a user. From the perspective of a media producer, one of the big things that people assume is that everything is copyrighted until stated otherwise and that you can’t use it. There are a number of people who will be very happy to use it, but they may not want to use it commercially. With a CC licence, the boundaries are clear. What you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do is extremely clear. One of the biggest problems in the digital landscape at the moment is opacity. You are not sure. There is an image on a website, which seems to be used in many places. Am I allowed to reproduce it? What is the extent to which I can use the content? A lot of these will be rendered clear for media practitioners.