Copyright law, which protects literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and affiliated works, mandates that in order to copy or use a copyrighted work one has to get permission from its owner or the author and this has been one of the major reasons for the visually impaired and otherwise print disabled persons (VIPs) to face acute “Book Famine” even though the technology enables books to be accessed in all sort of formats for print disabled persons.

The WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) in 2006, conducted a study on different national approaches to copyright disability exceptions for VIPs. Over 60 countries have an exception in their Copyright laws permitting conversion of works into accessible formats for the benefit of print disabled persons, although it may vary on account of the beneficiaries covered, formats permitted, restrictions on who can convert, etc.

Visually impaired and otherwise print disabled persons account for almost 285 million of the world’s population, of which approximately 47 million are in India. The Indian Copyrights Act, 1957 as it stood before the 2012 Amendment, was deficient to protect the interest of the print disabled community.

Prior to the 2012 Amendment, copyright laws in India hindered access to Persons with Disabilities since the owner of copyright in a work had the exclusive right to adapt, make copies, communicate to the public etc. the work. Therefore, any conversion of a book into accessible formats such as Braille, audio books, etc., for the benefit of persons with print disabilities was considered as copyright infringement unless it was undertaken by the owner of copyright or with the permission of the owner of copyright. The Amendment of 2012 does away with the necessity to seek the consent of the authors for converting their books into accessible formats.

Copyright Amendment Act, 2012

The Amendment of 2012 largely aimed at making Copyright Act, 1957 complaint with the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), the WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) and most of the international treaties and conventions in field of copyrights. Of the numerous changes brought about in the new Indian copyright regime, exceptions and limitations for persons with disabilities were incorporated in the following provisions:

Section 52(1)(zb): An author of the copyrighted work is granted with exclusive rights of use, reproduction, etc. but there a few exceptions wherein a copyrighted work can be used, copied or reproduced without obtaining the consent from the copyright owner. This section basically deals with such exceptions to copyright infringement and empowers individuals, educational establishments and non-profit organizations to reproduce all types of copyright-protected content in accessible formats for the benefit of disabled persons.

To this extent, the Act provides that it would not be a copyright infringement if any individual or any organization working for the benefit of the persons with disabilities and on a non-profit basis creates accessible format copies or distributes them to persons with disabilities.

Limitations: The books reproduced in accessible formats under Sec. 25(1)(zb) shall be for only private or personal use, or for educational or research purposes and not for use on a profit-basis. The person or organization providing such accessible formats are obligated to ensure the converted formats do not enter the mainstream business channels.

Section 31(b): Since Sec. 52(1)(zb) prohibits conversion of copyrighted works on a profit basis, any person or an organisation working for the benefit of disabled persons on a profit basis or for business can undertake conversion and distribution by applying for a license from the Copyright Board in accordance with the procedure laid down in this section.

“Disability isn’t Inability”

So far as exceptions to copyright are concerned, these changes brought about for the benefit of disabled persons can be regarded as the foremost wide and all-inclusive provision. Visually impaired and otherwise print disabled persons now have a greater access to creative content and can themselves or through an educational or non-profit institution reproduce all copyrighted materials in any accessible format without purchasing a license as long as a copy is not already commercially available.

On this note India’s commitment for providing better and greater access to disabled persons is even more accentuated by the fact that India in 2014 was the first country to have ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled Persons, 2013.

The crux of the this treaty lies in creating a mandatory obligation for member countries to enforce exceptions or limitations in their National Copyright Laws regarding the right of reproduction, right of distribution, and in facilitating the availability of copyrighted works in accessible format copies for persons with print disability.

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