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Removal of parallel imports clause may stir up debate

Removal of parallel imports clause may stir up debate
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First Published: Sun, Sep 04 2011. 11 33 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Sep 04 2011. 11 33 PM IST
Mumbai: The latest copyrights amendments Bill, to be tabled in Parliament this week, will upset book lovers and academicians over the decision of the ministry of human resources development (HRD) to drop a key proposal that allows import of books and other published materials from anywhere in the world if they are not available in India or available at a higher price.
The removal of the parallel imports clause in the final draft of the Bill surprised many in the academia as a Parliament committee appointed to review the proposed amendments in the copyrights law had strongly recommended this clause, proposed by the ministry itself when it was drafted initially.
The provision for importing books without infringing copyrights would have also helped students gain access to the latest affordable versions of text books from across the world.
Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal said on Friday the Opposition didn’t allow to discuss the Bill in the Rajya Sabha and declined comments on details of the Bill.
G.R. Raghavendra, registrar of copy rights and deputy secretary, HRD ministry, said the minister will discuss it in detail in the House on Monday.
While finalizing the new amendments in the copyright law after the standing committee review, the ministry has dropped the proposed amendment to section 2(m) of the Copyright Act, 1957, that deals with the imports of copyright protected materials to India.
“By deleting this clause (section 2 m), the government has unfortunately ignored the recommendations of the standing committee on interests of students and consumers of books,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director at Centre for Internet and Society, a public and consumer interest research organization focusing on Internet policy.
“It (the ministry’s decision to remove this clause) is putting the profits of publishers before the right to education and entertainment, and places state-sanctioned monopolies and enforcement before the diversity of choice and temporal advantages enabled by free market competition in the Internet age,” Abraham added.
Prashant Reddy, an intellectual property lawyer and a researcher at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata, wrote in his blog, “The earlier proposed amendment would have allowed parallel imports of books into India and significantly dropped the prices of books, especially educational books.”
This is a victory for the publishing industry, which until now had strongly opposed the amendments. Sibal will, however, have to answer to Parliament on why exactly he is disagreeing with the recommendations of the standing committee, which in its report had strongly supported parallel imports of books, wrote Reddy.
The initial draft of the copyrights amendments had suggested that a copy of a work published in any country outside India with the permission of the author of the work and imported from that country into India shall not be deemed to be an infringing copy.
When the Bill was referred to the review committee in 2010, it supported the introduction of the same, saying, “the availability of low-priced books under the present regime is invariably confined to old editions. Nobody can deny the fact that the interests of students will be best protected if they have access to latest editions of the books.”
Stressing the need for allowing parallel imports of books, experts in this field had earlier said in a study that the foreign publishers often introduce only old versions of books in India. The latest versions have to be imported directly from the publisher, and they are very expensive, often costing more than what they cost in the US and EU. A parallel imports provision would permit one to buy the cheapest editions available anywhere in the world, without necessarily going through the publisher, they said.
The final draft of the Copyrights Act Amendments, reviewed by Mint, has included most of the key changes recommended by the review committee such as the amendments re-defining the rights of the lyricists and composers as well as the producer of movies and music series with mandatory provision to share all royalties equally among them.
The changes in the law will also meet another important demand of the group of persons lobbying for wider and fair dealing for disabled persons. This amendment allows conversion of any copyright- protected materials into other formats such as braille, visual and audio for the specific use of disabled without the permission of the author.
“This is a major victory for the disabled as the earlier provision relating to disability access was severely flawed and restricted the copyright exemption only to special formats such as braille,” said Shamnad Basheer, a professor in IP law at National University of Juridical Sciences of Kolkata, and a key proponent of the new changes in the copyright law.
“The government has now widened the scope of the exemption and removed the special format limitation,” he said.
The new amendments to the copyright law have also suggested sweeping changes to the provisions governing the creation of copyright societies and granting licence in respect of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works incorporated in a cinematograph films or sound recordings. This will be carried out through a copyright society duly registered under this Act.
ch.unni@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Sep 04 2011. 11 33 PM IST