Amendments to Copyright Act may affect blind

Converting copyrighted materials to special formats to be restricted

The proposed amendment restricts copyrighted materials to be converted to 'special formats' such as Braille.  Though Braille is still regarded as one of the best means of providing books, activists say production and distribution of Braille books remain too complicated.

Children with visual challenge, who have no other means but Braille books for education, and professionals who need to have access to knowledge and information about their own areas of specialisation which Braille cannot cover, are likely to be affected badly if the amendments were to become part of the law.

"The majority of visually challenged children in the country are unable to get textbooks on time to begin their academic year," said Kanchan Pamnani, a visually challenged solicitor campaigning as part of the National Access Alliance, a national NGO network asking for the Government to correct the amendment's wording to reflect the requirements of the community. Organisations, which are involved in Braille book production agree that the coded system cannot remain the sole means of accessing information for the blind, given the limitations in production and distribution.

"First the printed text has to be scanned and then converted to Braille," M Srinivas, CEO, National Association for the Blind (NAB-Karnataka), said.  "The scanning  won't be accurate and we need to spend time correcting it. If the number of copies to be taken is less, this may not be so bad, but if we had to print books in large numbers the delay may be more."

Printing problems

The printing houses are not big enough to cater to all sections of the visually challenged community and cannot cope with the demand to convert all the books into Braille, from college books to professional books, especially if volumes were to be higher.  Even the Government Braille Press in Mysore, which works diligently to produce textbooks for State education board, finds it harder to expand its repertoire of materials.

"We abide by the Supreme Court directives that children with visual challenge must get books at the same time as the able-bodied peers and so we have the most modern machine imported from Norway that can print books faster," said Krishnamurthy, Manager of the Mysore-based press admitting that delays become inevitable, if the machine has problems since there is no local maintenance.

The Alliance has been asking the Government to include electronic and audio formats so that the blind and the visually impaired may have easier access to materials. Does that endanger Braille?  Nirmita Narasimhan, Programme Manager at Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a constituent of National Access Alliance, said technology complements and enhances Braille.

"Let's not forget that a master electronic copy is all we need to convert any text into Braille. Further, technology is yet to attain the flexibility and portability of Braille and so we need a choice to use both," she said.  "Most of us take up newer careers and cannot depend on Braille alone to update ourselves. The amendments are therefore a violation of our right to equality and right to living," she added.

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