Amending Copyright Act for print-disabled to access books
For centuries, lack of access to books and printed materials remained a great stumbling block for persons with disability to intellectually advance themselves.
Even as the education system across the world started to welcome persons with disability into its folds, many of them had to depend on their able-bodied peers or volunteers to read their books.
Though this has affected the visually challenged in general, they at least had the Braille code to access books, which was denied to those with other forms of disability such as cerebral palsy and dyslexia, who need specialised content to understand printed material.
With the development of technology, it became possible to create such alternative content electronically. This brought the question of copyrights — if letting the print-disabled (as all persons whose disability prevented them from accessing printed materials were came to be known) read books in electronic format would be construed as infringement.
Amidst these changes, the government decided in 2006 to amend the Indian Copyright Act recognising the rights of persons with disability to access copyrighted content in ‘special format’.
Organisations later negotiated with the government to ensure the wording of the amendment — 52(1)(za), which is being proposed with several other amendments to the Act — to properly reflect the requirements of the print-disabled community.
Meanwhile, there has been apprehension amongst the publishing industry that loosening of the ‘fair use’ clause in the Act may pave the way for more piracy. Publishers like Cambridge University Press (CUP), who recently entered into an agreement with DAISY Forum of India (DFI) in letting their content be provided for the print-disabled in DAISY format, favour such private agreements to solve accessibility issue.
“We are doing our best wherever it is feasible to offer help to the print-disabled,” said Manav Saikia, managing director, CUP, answering queries from Deccan Herald through email. “The agreement that we have signed with the DFI is a model developed specially for this purpose.”
CUP also points out that such agreements, whilst saving thousands of rupees for organisations in the form of royalty payments, would also ensure several print-disabled are not left out in the process of intellectual advancement.
“We can’t speak for the industry, but publishers are concerned about expansion for fair use, despite their readiness to help the print-disabled persons,” says Gautam John, new projects manager, Pratham Books, and one of the advisers to bookbole.com, an online portal for the visually challenged to exchange accessible materials, who explicitly supports the amendments.
“The copyright law was meant to provide a balance between an author’s rights, financial recompense and a wider, social mandate of encouraging writing and learning,” he explained.
Organisations, whilst trying to persuade the government to pass the amendment with agreeable wordings, also find reaching agreements with publishers as the best way to address the problem, at least temporarily.
Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), the Mumbai-based NGO leading the fight for the amendment, has partnered with bookshare.com, an internationally-renowned internet platform that distributes books in electronic format with due permission from the publishers.
According to its website, such partnerships are necessary “to create practical ground-level models to ensure that the much-awaited book access starts taking shape”. Visually challenged members of bookshare access books in its online library paying an annual subscription and by providing proper identification to confirm their disability. The content is also provided in technology that would preclude users from transferring it to others. Four organisations in India, including XRCVC, manage the process of screening and admitting new members to the site.
In the meantime, DFI and bookshare have also forged partnership to speak with publishers for providing their content. According to XRCVC’s website, publishers are being approached with the request of providing their titles through DFI-bookshare network so that it reaches qualified visually challenged persons. The website states that DFI-bookshare partnership has entered into understandings with publishers like Oxford University Press, Sheth Prakashan, Sage Publications and Pearson Education.
Kanchan Pamnani, a Mumbai-based solicitor who has been involved in the amendment process, feels despite such arrangements the amendments are necessary.
“Accessibility in the Act would, although not make it mandatory for publishers to provide material in alternate formats, at least eliminate the chance of the publishers and the other copyright holders from prosecuting the persons who provide such material in alternate formats to the print disabled (in the absence of agreements),” she said.
“This will also open the eyes of the publishers and copyright holders to the economic viability of providing materials in alternate formats, since many are too glad to buy them like regular books.”
She said if the ‘Delivery of Books Act’, which mandates publishers to send certain number of copies to the Kolkata National Library, is changed to include electronic copies, NGOs can later persuade the publishers to sell them to the print-disabled community.